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Ask the Life Insurance Expert

My ex-husband died recently. I know he listed me as the beneficiary while we were married, but I'm not sure if he ever changed it. How can I find out?

Call the life insurance company that issued the policy and ask. You are legally entitled to the money if you are still listed as the beneficiary on the policy, no matter when the marriage ended.

Life insurance experts advise consumers to review their life insurance policies regularly, especially after major life changes, such as divorce or marriage. Only the policy owner can change the beneficiary. For instance, if your ex-husband remarried, his wife would have no authority to remove your name from the policy; only your ex-husband could have wielded that power. Oftentimes people remember to update individual life insurance policies, but forget to update group life insurance policies.

If you don't remember the name of the company that issued your ex-husband's life insurance policy, then you'll need to do a little detective work.

Go through old paperwork, or contact a financial adviser who you and your husband consulted when you were married. There are also services, such as the Lost Life Insurance Finding Expert, which, for a fee, faxes letters to 460 customer service centers at insurance companies on your behalf. The letters ask if your deceased loved one had any life insurance policies that designated you as beneficiary.

If no one reports the death of the insured, the life insurance company makes efforts to find out why the policy owner stopped making premium payments. But if the company can't determine what happened to the insured, and no beneficiary steps forward, the money may be turned over to the state as unclaimed property after a few years.

For more, see who's who on a life insurance policy and how to find missing life insurance policies.


Last updated: Mar. 3, 2011