Tracking down old life insurance policies

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Q. My father, who was a life insurance salesman, died in 2008. My parents were divorced and my dad was remarried. While my relationship with my dad’s wife is cordial, I would feel uncomfortable asking her if my father had a will. My siblings and I never asked her about this. If we were in fact beneficiaries of any inheritance, is his wife legally obligated to inform us? Could I ask the insurance company if there was a policy?
— Not sure

A. We understand that you don’t necessarily want to bring this up to your dad’s wife, but she’s your best source of information — assuming she’s honest about your dad’s estate.

If your dad’s will was probated, the executor is supposed to provide notice to all heirs and next of kin as well as offer a copy of the will upon request, said Yale Hauptman, an estate planning attorney with Hauptman and Hauptman in Livingston.

“If your dad did not have any probate assets then there might not have been a need to probate,” Hauptman said. “For example, all assets may have been owned jointly with his wife with right of survivorship and/or had beneficiary designations such as in the case of IRAs or life insurance.”

Those assets pass outside of the will.

Hauptman said there is no requirement that a will be probated in every case — only if there is an asset that cannot be otherwise accessed.

If you don’t want to ask your dad’s wife, you can contact the surrogate of the county where your dad lived at the time of his death to see if a will was probated. They can search the records and for a fee give you a copy of the probated will, Hauptman said.

On the life insurance front, you can try contacting the insurance company.

“If you are a named beneficiary, then they will talk to you and give you a claim form,” Hauptman said. “However, if you are not the beneficiary then they likely won’t talk with you or confirm anything.”

Another option is to make a general inquiry through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.  It would check with participating insurance companies to determine whether your dad had any life insurance or annuities, Hauptman said.

If you are a named beneficiary, then an insurance company will provide you with that information.

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This post was first published in June 2017. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.