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Life Insurance Claims for a Missing Person

March 28, 2019
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A person mysteriously disappearing is not a common occurrence but it can happen. For these missing individuals that have life insurance and families, is there anything that can be done? At what point does a missing person get declared dead? Today we’ll answer these questions and more in this article.

When an Insured Person Goes Missing

Someone who is covered by life insurance is called an insured. When an insured person dies, their beneficiaries receive a death benefit check. In order to receive these proceeds, proof of the insured’s death needs to be sent to the insurance company. In the event that there is no evidence of the cause of death or that the person has even died, the situation can become frustrating.

Life insurance is there to replace the income of a provider who has died. Without this ongoing financial support, the family would likely suffer. Life insurance replaces this money.

» Calculate: Life insurance needs calculator

If a provider disappears, rather than dies, this income is still lost. The beneficiaries still suffer. So, are the insurance companies still obligated to pay out the policy’s death benefit? Yes… eventually.

When a Missing Person Is Presumed Dead

In the United States, four things must happen before a court will declare a missing person dead:

  1. The person has been missing without explanation or communication for a continuous specific amount of time (typically seven years),
  2. There must be no reasonable explanation for the disappearance (i.e. a fugitive from the law would not meet this criteria),
  3. There must be total absence of communication from the missing person during these years,
  4. A diligent search for the missing person needs to have been conducted.

The beneficiary of a life insurance policy can then go to the insurance company with the court’s declaration. The insurance company will then pay out the death benefit proceeds under a rebuttable presumption of death.

A rebuttable presumption of death is important to understand in this situation. This means that evidence can be brought at any time to prove the missing person is still alive. If the person who was declared dead later on is discovered alive, the insurance company has the right to take back the death benefit proceeds plus interest.

However, if the insurance company and beneficiary previously compromised on a settlement less than the full death benefit amount then the insurance company does not have the right to take it back.

Example:

John’s mother Linda lives in a memory care facility because she has Alzheimer’s disease. Linda owns a $500,000 life insurance policy and John is the primary beneficiary.

One day, Linda wandered away from the facility and could not be found even after extensive searches. After three years, John reached a $300,000 settlement with the life insurance company.

A few months after reaching the settlement, Linda is found miles away in a home for the poor. In this situation, the insurance company cannot request the $300,000 from John; however, John also won’t receive any more funds when Linda does eventually pass away.

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A Beneficiary’s Options if an Insured Is Missing

When an insured person goes missing and the beneficiary assumes the person to be dead, the beneficiary will usually file a death claim with the insurance company. If the insurance company doesn’t think the case is strong enough to presume the insured dead and denies the claim, the beneficiary has some options.

The beneficiary can:

  • Petition the court to declare the missing person dead.
  • Sue the insurance company for payment of the death benefit.

If neither of these routes is successful, the beneficiary has no choice but to wait until enough time has passed for the state to declare the insured dead.

While the beneficiary waits, it’s advisable to keep the policy inforce, in other words, keep paying the policy’s premiums. This is because in order for an insurance company to be required to pay the death benefit, the policy must be inforce when the insured dies.

If the beneficiary stops paying the premiums while the insured is missing, it’s very difficult for the beneficiary to argue that the insured did indeed die while the policy was active.

If it’s discovered that the insured died many years earlier, the beneficiary will be refunded the premiums that were paid after this actual date of death.

Exception in the Case of a Catastrophic Event

If a person goes missing as the result of a catastrophic event such as an airplane crash or flood, usually a beneficiary will not have to wait the designated time period before presumption of death can apply. Circumstantial evidence may be enough to state the date of the occurrence to be the date of death.

How to File a Death Benefit Claim

If the insured is not missing, filing a death benefit claim is relatively straight-forward.

Step One: If possible, contact the insurance agent who sold the policy or, if it is a group life policy, the employer who offered the coverage.

Step Two: Obtain a copy of the official death certificate and other documents.

Step Three: Complete a claim form from the insurance company.

Step Four: Submit the claim paperwork, IRS forms, and death certificate to the insurance company.

» Learn more: How to File a Life Insurance Claim

When starting the process of filing a life insurance claim, the best thing to do is get the agent who sold the policy involved in the process. He or she will be able to provide you with almost everything you need to know to file a claim. If the policy was purchased through Quotacy, contact us and we can help you through the process if you need assistance.

 

Watch the What Happens When an Insured Goes Missing Video

18 Comments

  1. James Seaborn

    In the state of Iowa it only takes 4 months to 6 months to declare a person dead especially if they are medically needy as my son was. Since my son is not my biological or adopted son and is a former Fosters son, I am listed as a friend. The judge denied the first hearingcstatongbge did not want to have a jury ir six for a missing person as the case was still open despite the fact that all cases are open until the body is found. The judge left the door open to try again and I have dince found a letter from the state attorney which states it has been treated as a body recovery. What can I do to help facilitate and insure the judge will grant this hearing?

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      James, I’m sorry to hear about your foster child. I recommend you contact an attorney. We cannot provide legal advice.

      Reply
  2. Kevin Bumgartner

    Thank you for your response. I think I can work around that, by having him set up a trust fund for his daughter before he’s killed. It’s going to be so important for her to receive the news that he didn’t abandon her at the same time she learns that she is entitled to a death benefit. At this point, I’m leaning toward having her find this out from the trust fund manager.

    I just want to be realistic.

    The question I guess I’m left with is this: he was covered when he died. The policy has lapsed since his death. But he was current on his premiums when he died. So if the trust fund manager pursued a death benefit for the trust (the trust is the only beneficiary), would it be realistic to expect this to pay? Or should I make it so that the trust is actually paying the premiums on the policy? The big question is, does it matter if the policy is current on its premiums when the body is discovered, or does it only matter if it WAS current when the insured died?

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      Hi Kevin,

      Trusts are used to own and manage life insurance policies all the time. This is not out of the ordinary. The trustee can inform the daughter of the policy. But there is also nothing stopping the father from informing the daughter when it’s purchased that he owns life insurance. We advise people all the time to tell their loved ones that they have life insurance.

      The life insurance policy will pay the benefit if the policy is inforce at the time of death. It does not need to be inforce when the body is physically discovered. However, keep in mind that it may take quite some time for the proceeds to be distributed because of all the different moving parts. The insurance company waits on the beneficiary to send in the claim, then they wait on the coroner’s report, and because it’s being investigated as a murder, they also will wait to make sure the insured was not killed as motive for the life insurance death benefit.

      Reply
  3. Kevin Bumgartner

    Doing a little writer’s research for a story I’m writing. Suppose an insured person is murdered, and the killer dumps the body in a lake, with some weights tied to it. Nobody knows the insured is dead, as the murderer took over his social media and posted about going on a long trip.

    Ok, so it takes a decade but eventually they find the body, and are able to determine when he died. So here’s the question: obviously, the murderer didn’t keep paying the guy’s premiums. So the policy gets cancelled, right? (That’s the first question)

    But, they didn’t have a body, and according to what I just read on this page, wouldn’t have declared him dead because it’s reasonable to think he went on a long trip, from his social media.

    This is all just a backstory, and I want to make it possible for the main character, his daughter, to receive a death benefit, kind of out of the blue, at the same time that she finds out he didn’t really abandon her. With what I just described, would she be receiving a death benefit? How would this happen? Would the police who have jurisdiction at the lake have contacted the insurance company, even though he didn’t currently have a policy? It would be perfect, dramatically, to have her contacted by somebody who simultaneously tells her that her father has been dead all this time, and that she is entitled to this death benefit, but I’m trying to figure out how that happens, who would be contacting her, etc. The body is very well preserved because of the cold lake – would she need to come and identify him?

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      Kevin, if no one is wondering where the person is, then there is no missing person claims made, and, therefore, no one to inform the insurance company of the issue. The insurance company would then assume the policyowner simply stopped paying the premiums and the policy would lapse.

      In addition, even if the premiums somehow kept being paid, the daughter would not be able to receive the death benefit “out of the blue”. She, as the policy’s beneficiary, is the person who would need to send in the death benefit claim, along with the copy of the death certificate, to the insurance company.

      I cannot comment on whether or not the daughter would need to identify the body. That’s a question for a coroner’s office.

      Reply
  4. James Seaborn

    I was so surprised when I just discovered after reading some comments that I wrote here just five days after my son went missing back on July 14th 2020.

    It has been over 10.months now and his body still has not been found. I had assumed I would not be able to petition a court for a declaration of death until I came across a site that stated here in Iowa, a person only has to be missing for six months (and as few as 4 months if they are medically needy as my son was).

    I wasn’t ready to obtain an attorney as I was still too grief stricken. I have since retained an attorney with financial help from friends.

    My question is this… If the jury and court declares my missing son dead and I am issued a death certificate, will that suffice for the insurance company… or will I still need to wait 7 years like so many other places?

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      James, I’m very sorry to hear your son has gone missing. To answer your question, a life insurance company will pay out the death benefit with a valid death certificate if the court does indeed declare him dead.

      Reply
  5. dinesh kumar goyal

    What happens when presumption of death is determined after passing 7 years of missing a person and death claim is settled but he is found later alive i.e. after 7 years.

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      If the person who was declared dead later on is discovered alive, the insurance company has the right to sue for the death benefit proceeds plus interest. If the parties committed fraud, those involved may also face criminal charges.

      However, if the insurance company and beneficiary previously compromised on a settlement less than the full death benefit amount then the insurance company does not have the right to take it back. When the insured actually dies, the beneficiaries do not receive a second death benefit.

      Reply
  6. SIZAKELE MAYEZA

    Broker did the mistake by write the youngest brother as the policy holder the policy holder have 4yrs disappeared I’m the premiums payer the beneficial died on 2017, in 2018 one the brother died I need help?

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      Sizakele, your IP address and email tell me you’re in South Africa. We’re in the United States, so I won’t be able to advise you best. Each country has different laws around life insurance. I recommend you contact the insurance company directly and they can guide you.

      Reply
  7. Lynda Marroletti

    It appears that my husband died about 2.5 weeks ago swimming in the Atlantic ocean offshore. He has a term policy that ends in 2 years with the potential to move to extend but the premiums would be over 130K for the last 5 years left on the policy before the 7 years is out to declare him presumed dead. They have not found his body and no one can really say that at this point it will be found. If they never find it and decide that he is presumed dead would the insurance have to pay then? What are my options? I am in the process of consulting attorneys. This feels really gross considering I would give anything to have him back.

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      Lynda, I am sorry to hear about your husband. My heart goes out to you. I can understand how it would feel uncomfortable hiring an attorney, but it’s a smart decision. They can handle the details, allowing you to worry about one less thing. They can guide you through this difficult process and work with you closely regarding the life insurance policy. As you’re consulting attorneys, keep paying the premiums on the policy. Regarding continuing to pay the premiums after the term ends, consult with the attorney you decide on.

      Reply
  8. James Seaborn

    My son went missing 5 days ago. His truck is still in front of one of the houses he owns (he has two large homes paid for)… and has not been moved since. He also has multiple health problems. He is bowel and badder incontinent due to a botched back surgery. He has a supra-pubic catheter tube inserted directly though his abdomen into his dead bladder and wears a leg bag. His prescription medicines are here at home. He has a neurostimulator implant that operates with equipment in a small bag that is visible through the window of his truck. He wears an orthotic because one of his feet have collapsed forcing him to walk on the side even with the orthotic.

    He cannot walk more than a few blocks. he cannot survive without his medical supplies. Will this have any influence over time in filing a claim or bringing the claim to court as I know insurance companies are often quick to deny any claim or offer almost nothing.

    I am still hoping beyond hope he is okay. But I feel certain he is dead somewhere near where he left his truck since he is unable to walk very far. But my greatest concern is that he either took his life and may be in some abandoned building or under a bush… or he may have trusted the wrong person/persons and got into a car and went with them and is possibly the victim of foul play. I have done everything as far as calling the police daily, hospitals, shelters, posted on missing person sites and am awaiting to hear from news stations to see if they will post him missing on television. I am beside myself because I have M.S. and cannot begin to attempt to finish up with his homes or sell them (I do have power of attorney and he has it on me). If you can think of anything helpful I can do to either find him or get the insurance faster than 7 years because I cannot imagine I will live that long… please let me know. As a father, I feel certain he is dead somewhere. But… no body… no crime. There is also no activity on his bank account as far as withdrawals. I will need to pay his bills and I am on Social Security. I am truly frantic about him as his birthday is on the 21st which is just 4 days from now. Even though he is 50, he is like a kid about his birthday and Christmas. He would also NEVER leave his dog which is the love of his life since he has no friends and has never had any friends other than my friends which are older.

    Reply
    • Jeremy Hallett

      James, this is a tragedy on so many levels. My heart goes out to you. I don’t have any advice on how to proceed with collecting on a life insurance death benefit at this point. It’s just so early from when he went missing. You are being so diligent in your efforts of working with the police and getting the word out to look for your son. Our prayers are with you and hope he is found alive and safe somewhere.

      You mentioned that you are concerned about paying his bills, but that you don’t have the funds to do that as you live on Social Security. That is okay. You are not responsible to pay his bills. Since he has a couple of large homes that are paid for, he has enough assets in his estate to cover whatever other bills he has if it comes to that. Please let that worry go for now as more stress, especially financial stress, is not something that is helpful for you.

      May your son be found soon. And may he be alive and well. Jeremy.

      Reply
  9. Tony

    Is there a typical claim form for a missing person or does a claim form exist for missing person?

    Reply
    • Natasha Cornelius

      To report a missing person, you will need to call your local police department. From there you can ask to file a missing person’s report at the police station.

      Reply

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