Investigation Finds Tens of Thousands of Policies Went Unpaid Because Insurance Companies Did Not Check if Policy Holders Had Died
Investigation Helped 7,525 New Yorkers Recover Almost $100 Million in Life Insurance Payouts
Albany, NY (April 23, 2012)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that a Department of Financial Services (DFS) investigation into how insurance companies tracked life insurance policy holders has resulted in 32,715 payments to consumers nationwide totaling $262.2 million, including 7,525 payments totaling $95.9 million to New Yorkers.
The DFS investigation found that many insurance companies regularly received a list of recent deaths from the Social Security Administration but were not mandated to use and, therefore, were not using that list to determine if a policy holder had died. That means if a family member did not know there was a life insurance policy or simply forgot to file a claim to the insurance company, that policy went unpaid. As a result, tens of thousands of families did not receive their life insurance benefits.
Meanwhile, the investigation found that insurance companies often used the list of recent deaths to verify the status of people getting annuity checks, and, when a death was verified, the insurance company stopped the annuity payment.
“This investigation makes it perfectly clear that something must be done to make sure families across New York receive the life insurance benefits that they are due," Governor Cuomo said. "In the wake of this investigation, New York will now mandate that insurance companies actively search the list of recent deaths so money will be paid to beneficiaries instead of being trapped in limbo and a new website will help families search for lost or forgotten policies."
"The Department gets frequent calls from people who say, ‘I know my parents were insured, but I can’t locate the policy and I don’t know which insurance company issued the policy.’” DFS Superintendent Benjamin M. Lawsky said. "There is simply no reason why insurance companies shouldn't be scrubbing their policy lists with the death index database on a frequent basis. Running these computer matches isn't much of a burden and the benefits to consumers are significant."
As a result of its investigation, the state demanded that insurers use the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to investigate policies for which no claims have been made and to find beneficiaries who are eligible for benefits but have not filed claims. New York was the first state to order the cross-check policy and will issue a regulation to mandate this action in the future. Following that edict, insurers reported they cross-checked approximately 89.58 million records. Insurers are still investigating more than 445,000 potential matches for unpaid claims.
Some of the larger individual payments made so far include the following:
- $344,757.37 to a Northport, New York beneficiary on an individual life insurance policy where the insured died in 2007.
- $217,031.88 to a Rockville Center, New York beneficiary on two individual annuities where the annuitant died in 2006.
- $138,051.81 to a Queens, New York beneficiary on an individual life insurance policy where the insured died in 1998.
- $107,399.60 to a Brooklyn, New York beneficiary on an individual annuity where the annuitant died in 2005.
Governor Cuomo also announced that as a result of the DFS investigation, the state has launched a free online Lost Policy Finder to help New Yorkers locate life insurance policies that have been lost or misplaced. The Lost Policy Finder search application can be found at NYPolicyFinder.com. The program may be used to locate both life insurance policies and annuity contracts.
Policy search applications will be submitted to DFS, which will electronically notify New York licensed life insurance companies and fraternal benefit societies.
Insurers will search their records to determine the existence of a life insurance policy or annuity contract. The insurers will then electronically report the search results to DFS within 30 days, and DFS will notify requestors whether or not a policy has been identified by any licensed insurer. If a policy is identified, the insurer will begin the claims process for paying proceeds to beneficiaries.
For more information on DFS, visit www.dfs.ny.gov.