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What happens when someone with life insurance goes missing?

Do you prefer to learn by watching? We answer this question in a video below. Click here to jump ahead.

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.


 

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.

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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.

 
» Compare: Term life insurance quotes

 

Watch the What Happens When an Insured Goes Missing Video

Video Transcript

Welcome to Quotacy’s Q&A Friday where we answer your life insurance questions. Quotacy is an online life insurance broker where you can get life insurance on your terms.

I’m Jeanna and I’m Natasha.

Today’s question is:
 
What happens if someone insured by life insurance goes missing?

 
 
Traditionally when someone with life insurance dies, this person is called the insured, the beneficiary sends in a death benefit claim form along with proof of the insured’s death. But if the insured is missing, there is no evidence of death.

» Learn more: How to File a Life Insurance Claim

Thankfully people going missing isn’t a common occurrence but it does happen. And when this person disappears, their income is lost just as if the person died. The beneficiaries still suffer. So, if a missing person had life insurance is the life insurance company still obligated to pay out the policy’s death benefit?

Yes. Maybe. Eventually.

Submitting a successful death benefit claim for a missing person requires a few more steps than the typical death benefit claims process.

In the U.S., four things must happen before a court will declare a missing person dead.

Steps Before a Missing Person Is Declared Dead:

  1. The insured needs to be missing for a set period of time (typically seven years).
  2. There must be no reasonable explanation for the disappearance.
  3. There must be no contact from the insured.
  4. A diligent search must have been performed and concluded.

 
 
The person needs to have been missing for a continuous specific amount of time, typically 7 years. There must be no reasonable explanation for the disappearance. For example, a fugitive from the law would not meet this requirement. There must be total absence of communication from the missing person during these years. And a diligent search for the missing person needs to have been conducted.

After these four things have occurred, then the beneficiary can go to the life insurance company with the court’s declaration and request the death benefit.

The insurance company will then pay out the death benefit proceeds but under a rebuttable presumption of death. 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. But 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.

Let’s look at an example.

example of person with life insurance going missing

Linda is 70 years old and lives in a memory care facility because she has Alzheimer’s. Linda owns a $500,000 life insurance policy and her son John is the primary beneficiary.

example of death benefit settlement for an insured person who went missing

One day Linda wanders 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 this settlement Linda is found miles away in a home for the poor. In this situation, the insurance company can’t request the $300,000 from John. However, John also won’t receive any more money when Linda does eventually pass away.

If you’re a beneficiary to the life insurance policy of a person who has gone missing and you believe them to be dead, you can file a claim with the insurance company. If the insurance company does not think there is a strong enough case to presume the person is dead you still have some options. You can petition a court of law to declare the missing person dead or you can try suing the insurance company for the death benefit proceeds. If neither of these routes are successful you have no choice but to then wait until enough time has passed and the state declares the person dead.

While you wait, we advise you to continue paying the premiums on the life insurance policy. We advise this because in order for an insurance company to be required to pay out a benefit the policy needs to be inforce when an insured person dies.

If the policy premiums aren’t paid while the insured is missing and the policy lapses, it would be very difficult for you to prove the insured person did in fact die while the policy was active. So keep paying the premiums to keep the policy active and if it is discovered that the insured did indeed die many years earlier the insurance company will refund the premiums that you paid after the actual date of death.

If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation contact your life insurance agent if you need advice.

If you have any questions about life insurance make sure to leave us a comment. And if you’re ready to get quotes check out Quotacy.com. We’re here to help you find the best deal on the life insurance you want.

 

About the writer

Headshot of Natasha Cornelius, a life insurance writer, for Quotacy, Inc.

Natasha Cornelius

Writer, Editor, and Co-Host of Quotacy’s Q&A Friday YouTube Series

Natasha writes and edits content and is co-host of Quotacy’s YouTube series. She is also working toward her Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation. When not working or studying, you’ll find her throwing a tennis ball for her pitbull mix, Emmett, or curled up on her couch watching Netflix. If it’s football season, the Packers game will be on.