A life insurance death benefit can provide much-needed financial support after the death of a loved one. As a beneficiary, you can use the money to cover funeral costs, bills, child care, or save it for the future. You get to decide how you use the money and how you receive the payout.

But to receive your life insurance death benefit, you first have to file a claim. You may still be grieving when you contact the insurance company, so it may help to know ahead of time what steps you need to take and the options available to you. Here are some tips to help you navigate the process.


Losing a loved one can be a difficult time, so knowing your options in advance can help you make choices without feeling pressured and overwhelmed.


How to get started

If you’re the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, it's most helpful to have the actual policy documents on hand to initiate a claim. The documents will include the policy number, the insured's personal information, and the contact number for the life insurance company. if you're unable to locate the policy, you can call the insurance company that issued the policy and they can look up the information for you. The insured's financial professional, attorney or accountant may also be able to assist.

If you can’t find the policy or don’t know the issuing insurer, free resources are available that can help you locate lost life insurance policies, including the Policy Locator Service provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and the Life Insurance Policy Locator tool offered by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA).

Filing a claim

Once you have the necessary policy information, the process for filing a claim is relatively simple. When you contact the insurer or start an online claim process, you’ll want to have the following information handy:

  • The insured’s full name
  • The insured’s date of birth
  • The insured’s state of residence
  • The insured’s policy number or numbers
  • The insured’s date and cause of death
  • A copy of the insured’s death certificate

Be sure to follow the insurer’s instructions carefully so you don’t fill out the wrong form or miss something important. Insurance companies may have different rules about death certificates—some may want notarized originals, others may prefer scanned copies—so be sure to clarify which they need. Any missteps could lead to a delay in your payment.

Death benefit payout options

The next important step in the claims process is selecting how you want to be paid. The specific payout options may vary depending on the insurance company and type of policy, but the two main options are:

  • Lump sum: You receive the entire death benefit in a single payment. This is the most straightforward and immediate option, providing a large sum of money all at once.
  • Annuitization: The insurer may provide options to receive your death benefit in installments over time. These options could include fixed amounts over a specific period until depleted, payments designed to last your lifetime, and more.

Which option you choose will depend on your own financial situation. If you’re interested in annuitization, you may want to discuss your options with a financial professional to ensure they fit your needs over the long term.

Does the death benefit get taxed?

Life insurance death benefits are typically not subject to federal income tax when paid out to the beneficiaries. However, there are some situations where the death benefit could be taxed. If you’re concerned about the tax implications of receiving a death benefit, consult with a tax professional or estate-planning attorney.

Standing by to help

The death of a loved one and the difficult period afterwards can be overwhelming, but receiving a death benefit from their life insurance policy should be a help, not another worry. Insurance companies help people navigate these situations every day, and they’ll be ready to help with the care and compassion you need. But being prepared before you start the process can help ensure that you get your payout as quickly and easily as possible.

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