New messages from Aflac | View Notifications opens a dialog Close X dismisses the notification alert

How to File a Life Insurance Claim

When a life insurance policyholder passes away, beneficiaries can file for a claim immediately and receive the death benefit payout. The faster they file a complete and accurate claim, the sooner they can receive the financial security a death benefit offers. Filing a claim may initially seem like a daunting process, but can actually be very straightforward if you understand how the process works and what information you’ll need. Read on to learn how filing life insurance claims works, how long the claims process takes, and what rights you have as a beneficiary.

What is a life insurance claim?

A life insurance claim is a request from the beneficiary to receive the life insurance death benefit payout upon the policyholder’s death. The beneficiary must contact the insurer and submit the proper paperwork. The insurer will verify the claim and pay the death benefit to the beneficiary in the preferred payout method if they approve the claim.

Steps to make a life insurance claim

Here’s how to file a life insurance claim and get the death benefit payout:

1. Figure out which life insurance company holds the policies

First, identify the policyholder’s insurer. The policy documents should detail this, so policyholders should try to inform beneficiaries of their beneficiary status, the policy document location, and who the insurer is. Otherwise, the policyholder’s financial advisor or estate planning attorney may have this information, and beneficiaries can contact these parties to try to obtain it.

2. Get the policyholder’s certified death certificate

Life insurers require a death certificate to verify the policyholder’s passing. Get multiple certified copies of the policyholder’s death certificate from the relevant local government agency, such as your local vital records office. Multiple copies allow you to provide the insurer with one and keep other copies in case other institutions, such as banks or government bodies, need one.

3. File the claim with the insurer 

Contact the insurer to start your claim, and they’ll direct you to their claim form to fill out. The insurer may offer options to file online or to fill out the form in person. Complete the form and submit it to the insurer along with the policy number (located on the policy documents) and the policyholder’s death certificate. Triple-check your answers before submitting, as errors can delay the process. Bring up any questions or concerns with the insurer.

4. Choose how you’ll receive the payout

Insurers offer several death benefit payout methods:

  • Lump sum: Receive the full amount in one payment. This can work well if you feel comfortable managing a large sum of money.
  • Life income annuity: Receive fixed, regular payments for life. The insurer calculates the payment amount using the beneficiary’s estimated life expectancy. Payments may be smaller for people with long life expectancies, but beneficiaries who aren’t comfortable managing large windfalls may prefer this payout method.
  • Specific income annuity: Receive payments over a fixed period, such as 10 years. The insurer divides the death benefit by the number of payments to get the payment amount. This method offers higher payments than a life income annuity, but payments end eventually.
  • Retained asset account: Keep the death benefit in an interest-bearing savings account with the insurer. You can tap into it by writing checks when needed while leaving the rest to grow.

Each of these methods may have tax consequences, so it may be wise to speak with a tax professional if you’re unsure which to select.

5. Receive the death benefit payout 

Once the insurer approves the claim, they’ll pay the death benefit according to the beneficiary’s selected payment method. Communicate with the insurer throughout the process of waiting for your payout. This helps ensure a smooth transaction and allows you to follow up if delays occur.

Peace of mind doesn't
have to break the bank

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Help cover yourself and your family with coverage from Aflac.

Get a Quote

How long does the life insurance claims process take?

In many cases, life insurance claims can take 14 to 60 days from filing to death benefit payout.1 Insurers must verify the policyholder has passed away, check the policy terms to ensure the death is covered, and verify the beneficiaries are correct. Usually, if it takes longer to receive the payout, there may be delays in the process. In this case, you can contact the insurer and find out why. Several factors can impact the length of the claims process:1

  • Policy type: Term life insurance, which is a simpler type of policy, may process more quickly than permanent life insurance policies.
  • Insurer: Insurers may vary in processes and procedures for life insurance payouts, altering the process length.
  • Regulations: States and localities may vary in life insurance regulations, potentially changing how long it takes to receive a payout.
  • Missing information: Errors or missing information or documents, such as a death certificate, delay the process.
  • Cause of death: Certain causes of death may require additional investigation. For example, if homicide is the cause of death, insurers investigate the circumstances further. If the policyholder was involved in criminal activity at the time, or the beneficiary committed the homicide, claims may not be paid out.
  • Suspected fraud: Insurers carefully evaluate claims since life insurance fraud is the most common type of insurance fraud.2 If insurers suspect fraud, the additional investigation can prolong the claims process.
  • Contestability period: The first one to two years of a policy may have a contestability period, during which insurers have the right to evaluate a claim more closely and ensure the death is covered.

Beneficiaries’ rights in life insurance claims

The law extends beneficiaries several rights to protect them and create an even playing field regarding filing life insurance claims and receiving the payout they deserve. Beneficiaries have the right to:3

  • Know the policy amount: You have a right to request the insurer to share the policy amount with you, in case the policyholder did not share that information.
  • Know how to file a claim: Insurers must offer clear guidance on filing a claim properly and provide a timeline for its processing.
  • Know why claims are delayed or denied: If a claim takes longer than a month to pay out or gets denied, you have the right to know this and find out why.
  • Know how to file an appeal: Life insurers must provide clear instructions on filing an appeal if they deny your claim, including how and where to file it and the deadline for filing. All of this is typically explained on the insurer’s site and in a claim denial letter.
  • Examine documents the insurer uses in reviewing a claim: Understanding the documents insurers use is crucial to knowing if you could successfully file an appeal on a denial. So, you have the right to examine any documents an insurer uses when reviewing a claim.

What to do if your life insurance claim gets denied

Life insurance claims may be denied for several reasons:

  • Lapsed policy: If the policy lapsed through unpaid premiums or cash-value-related reasons, the claim may be denied.
  • Misrepresentation: Intentionally falsifying or omitting relevant information, such as falsely claiming nonsmoker status or omitting a high-risk hobby on the application, can lead to claims denial.
  • Term policy expiration: If the policyholder had a term life insurance policy, claims will be denied if the policy expired.
  • Policy exclusions: Deaths under certain circumstances, such as death due to involvement in criminal activity, may result in denial.

If a claim is denied, you can file an appeal. Here’s how:

  • Know the reason for denial: Insurers provide a letter detailing the reason for the denial. However, you can request further information if needed.
  • Understand the appeals process: Insurers provide detailed appeals instructions, so review those and make sure you understand the process.
  • Review the policy: Carefully review the policy terms and conditions to see if you have a legitimate case to appeal.
  • Gather evidence: Collect documentation for the appeal relevant to the case, such as premium payment records for lapsed policy denials, medical records, correspondence with the insurer, police reports, and similar documents. The more relevant evidence you have, the stronger your case could be.
  • Submit the appeal: Fill out and submit an appeal form to the insurer. Attach a letter laying out your side and provide evidence that they should overturn the denial. Follow the appeals process step by step.
  • Get legal advice: Consider speaking with an attorney specializing in insurance law. They can help you identify evidence and documentation to build your case, craft a strong appeal letter, communicate with the insurer, and answer any other questions.

If the appeal is unsuccessful, but you firmly believe you have a valid claim, consider filing a complaint with your state’s insurance department. Legal action can be a last resort if the regular appeals process fails and your relevant state government agency doesn’t succeed. However, the costs and time involved can be significant, so weigh this against the benefits of the payout.

Learn more about life insurance

Filing a claim is more straightforward than it may sound at first. Once you know the policy details and insurer, you’ll need to fill out a claims form and submit it along with a certified copy of the policyholder’s death certificate. In many cases, you’ll receive a payout within a few weeks to a month. If your claim is denied, you may not be out of luck. You have the right to file an appeal and to know how to do so. The effort involved is worth it if you can overturn the denial and receive the financial assistance the death benefit offers.

If you’re interested in getting life insurance to help provide loved ones with financial security in case of the unexpected, consider getting a policy from Aflac. Speak with an agent today to explore your options, ask any questions you may have, or get a quote.

Still have questions?

Explore your life insurance options.

Get a Quote