How long does a beneficiary have to claim on a life insurance policy? For any number of reasons, people delay claiming the death benefit from a life insurance policy. In some cases they may not even know they’re the beneficiary of a loved one’s policy. But if months or years have passed since the policyholder’s death, should the beneficiary worry about losing out on the benefit?

The short answer is “no.” There isn’t any time limit when it comes to claiming a life insurance payout. As long as the policy was active at the time of the insured individual’s passing—that is, the premiums were paid and there are no grounds for the insurance company to dismiss the claim—you’ll get the money. However, if you’re hoping to get a timely payout, it’s better to file earlier than later.

Key Takeaways

  • There is no time limit on life insurance death benefits, so you don’t have to worry about filling a claim too late.
  • To file a claim, you can call the company or, in many cases, start the process online.
  • In order to expedite your claim, it’s helpful to have a copy of the policyholder’s death certificate, as well as their Social Security number and policy number.

How to Make a Claim

If you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy—or even suspect that you might be—you’ll want to contact the insurance company shortly after the policy owner has passed away. Depending on the company, you may be able to visit its website to request that a claim form be mailed to you. Some insurers allow you to complete the entire process online.

The carrier will likely ask you to provide the insured individual’s name and date of birth. In order to expedite a claim, it may also request the insured’s Social Security number or policy number, as well as a copy of the death certificate.

Some policies have more than one beneficiary, so it’s important for each person to fill out a claim form in order to receive a payout. If you’re a contingent beneficiary—that is, you’re entitled to all or part of the death benefit if a primary beneficiary passes away before the policyholder—you may need to submit a copy of that individual’s death certificate as well.

If an insurance company goes out of business, funds held in reserve (in accordance with state regulations) help pay out any unclaimed death benefits. Should those funds be insufficient, a guarantee association helps pay all or part of the claim.

Uncertainty of Beneficiary Status

While it’s always a good idea for insured adults to let loved ones know that they’re a beneficiary of a policy, that doesn’t always happen. If you’re not sure whether you’re in line to receive a payout, you can also double-check by going online and using the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Life Insurance Policy Locator Service, which searches all of its member companies for matching policies.

Though the service is free, it can take up to three months to hear back. Therefore, it’s a process you probably want to start only after scouring the deceased’s personal records for more-concrete information about their policy.

Even if you don’t contact the insurance company, there’s a good chance it will find out about the policyholder’s death eventually. That’s because insurers in some states are required to regularly cross-check their list of customers against the Social Security Administration Death Master File (DMF). When they find out about the death through that process, they’ll contact any beneficiaries, although it may take substantially longer this way.

How Long Do Claims Take?

In most cases it takes anywhere between one week and two months for the insurer to send you the death benefit, according to the online brokerage Policygenius. However, the payment can be delayed for a variety of reasons, such as sending in the wrong forms. The company may also take longer to investigate the claim if the cause of death is a homicide, as it has to rule out the possibility that the person in line to receive a financial payout was involved in the incident.

In some cases the insurance firm may outright refuse to pay the claim. If the policyholder dies within two years of taking out the insurance, the death generally falls within the “contestability period.” That means the company has the right to review the decedent’s medical history to make sure that all pertinent health conditions were disclosed when the policy was established. The insurer may also look for any risky activities, such as skydiving, that the policy owner failed to report on their application. And if the individual dies by suicide during that window, the company may also have the right to withhold a benefit.

The Bottom Line

If you found out relatively late that you’re the beneficiary of someone’s life insurance policy, rest easy—there’s generally no time limit on when you can file a claim. However, there are a number of reasons why your payout can be delayed, so it never hurts to gather as much relevant information as you can and start the process sooner rather than later.