Tackling paperwork after someone dies – Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that I would discuss filing insurance claims, filing for 401K and pension benefits, converting IRAs, cancelling utilities, updating car and house insurance policies. I have decided these subjects should be divvied up into separate posts so I can be thorough without boring you to tears.

So this post covers making claims on life insurance policies.  Among the first items we tackled with the Kids (my 2 cousins) after their father died was the life insurance policies my Uncle had purchased. Based on the size of them I am certain he bought one to cover the funeral expenses, wrapping up debts and opening a Probate Case and the larger policy was the nest egg for his two kids.

Caution: You will be surprised at how often you must supply an original death certificate to vendors and agencies, even to cancel the cable bill. When you are asked by the funeral home how many you want to order, DO NOT SKIMP just because it may be $5.00 for a piece of paper. These are among the most important items you will need to prove the status of the person’s death. Order at least 10!

Here’s where it got tricky for us due to logistics and human error. The agent printed out the stack of documents we had to fill in and sign times two — one set for each Kid, as both were listed as primary beneficiaries.  I read through them first very carefully and filled out everything I could, as my cousins would have easily gotten confused immediately with the legal language used.  I then sat down with each of the Kids separately so we could go through it carefully with my explaining each section in the hopes they might understand some of it and ask questions, and they signed it.  This part went smoothly on the first policy; However we ran into a snag when the notary who was going to notarize the Kids’ signatures discovered that one of their IDs was expired. This was just the beginning of the hurdles we had to jump over.

Lesson A: when submitting the insurance claim paperwork at a minimum (each company may have its own requirements) the signatures of the claimant-beneficiaries MUST be notarized, you MUST submit an original death certificate and a copy of each claimant-beneficiary’s photo ID.

To get the State ID renewed at the DMV they required a utility bill, other bill or birth certificate to prove he was who he claimed he was and resided where he claimed he resided. He had NONE of those. All bills were in his father’s name.  It was a Friday late afternoon and the prospect of driving nearly an hour away to the Department of Birth Records to get a certified copy and getting back in time for the funeral service wasn’t going to work; further we had no idea what they were going to require of us to get the Birth Certificate.

My other cousin – his sister – remembered that she once saw her mother put away ‘someplace safe’ a mini version of her brother’s birth certificate. Yet one of the Aunts was certain she had gone through the ‘strong box’ and found nothing like a Birth Certificate.  We were up a creek.  We put the task off until we could go through the house and papers again.  When we did tackle the task again on the weekend two of us went through all papers and boxes containing papers again, including trash bags of paper we thought we would discard.  Luckily we did find it!  It was in the bottom of a hanging file folder in the ‘strong box’. It was so small it got overlooked. On Monday morning we went to the DMV when it opened and got his new ID. Then I delivered the papers to the insurance agent with a copy of the ID so she could complete the notary and submit the papers.

Lesson B: When going through someone else’s papers don’t be shy. I just dumped everything out of containers so I wouldn’t miss a thing.

On the second policy claim we had some hurdles to get over too: In addition to having to wait for my Uncle’s doctor to respond to the insurance company’s request for medical records to confirm his health and that the claim was legitimate — which took longer because the doctor’s office closed for about a week and we couldn’t get a hold of anyone; One of my Uncle’s sisters had completed the claim forms with the Kids, as it was time for me to get on a plane and go home.  Accidentally she transposed the numbers in the home address for mailing the insurance proceeds and no one caught the mistake before mailing the claim papers off.  I didn’t discover the error until weeks had passed and I started to wonder where the proceeds were.  Luckily I had selected that the insurance company issue a savings account for each Kid rather than issuing a check.  The insurance company had mailed the savings account books out to the wrong address — which legally didn’t exist, it fell in the middle of forest. They made us complete an affidavit, but agreed to let us fax it in.  It still took another 2 weeks for the replacement savings account books to arrive. So in total that insurance claim took about 45 days.  That felt like an eternity when the Kids didn’t have access to any monies whatsoever. But that’s a story for another blog.

Lesson: Keep a copy of all paperwork you submit to the insurance company. It makes talking to an agent over the telephone a lot easier when a question or problem arises.

One of the good things about the bigger policy from Liberty Mutual was the offering of options regarding the proceeds. We could request a cashier’s check or we could opt for the savings account — just like at a bank.  They sent a checkbook, the account earns interest and there wasn’t additional steps to take to open the account since it remained with Liberty Mutual.

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