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Consumer Insight

Sept. 12, 2023

What to Know About Life Insurance Beneficiaries

Tens of millions of dollars in death benefits go unclaimed each year because beneficiaries lack basic information about their deceased loved one’s life insurance policies. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) wants to help consumers be prepared.

When it comes to receiving a death benefit after a family member or significant other dies, many people are unprepared to collect. Better communication between policyholders and beneficiaries will improve the situation.

What should I know about the policy?

Knowing you’re the beneficiary is just the start. You will also need information about the policy. Having this basic information will save time and help you learn what you need so benefits are paid properly. It’s helpful to think of it in three parts:

  • Who is the insurance company?

  • What is the benefit amount?

  • Where is the policy stored?

What should I know as a policyholder?

As a life insurance policyholder, there are important steps you should take now:

  • Have you had a life changing event such as the birth of child or a divorce? It’s important to update your policies after a major life event to make sure that you have the appropriate beneficiaries listed.

  • Check your policies once a year to make sure that all beneficiaries are included and that the contact information for those listed beneficiaries is correct.

  • Let your beneficiaries know about the policies.

  • Provide beneficiaries or trusted advisors, such as accountants and attorneys, with the name of the life insurance company holding the policy.

  • Place a current copy of the policy with your will or other estate paperwork in a safe place where family and beneficiaries will be able to easily find it. 

What should I know as a beneficiary?

When a loved one dies, a beneficiary may have options for how to receive the death benefit. One option is a single settlement check. Another option may be a Retained Asset Account, which is like a checking account maintained with the life insurance company. When evaluating your options, it is important to consult with a tax professional about any potential tax consequences.

While it’s important for policyholders to plan ahead and prepare, the NAIC Life Insurance Policy Locator (LPL) tool can help beneficiaries locate unclaimed benefits. The tool conducts a search of all participating life insurance and annuity companies regardless of where the deceased lived. For information on how to use this tool, please see the Frequently Asked Questions.


  1. Inform your beneficiaries that they are named in your life insurance policy, or if you’d prefer not to let them know directly, make sure a trusted advisor, such as an accountant or attorney, is aware.

  2. Keep your policy in a safe place and inform beneficiaries or trusted advisors of the name of the carrier and the location of the policy.

  3. If you believe that you are a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, but don’t have the information you need to collect, the NAIC LPL might be able to help.

About the National Association of Insurance Commissioners

As part of our state-based system of insurance regulation in the United States, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) provides expertise, data, and analysis for insurance commissioners to effectively regulate the industry and protect consumers. The U.S. standard-setting organization is governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer reviews, and coordinate regulatory oversight. NAIC staff supports these efforts and represents the collective views of state regulators domestically and internationally.