How long does it take to collect a life insurance claim payout?

Depending on the type of policy, it can take as little as three to five days to receive a death benefit payment once you've filed a life insurance claim if you're a named beneficiary.

Note that if the insured's death occurred during the policy's contestability period, or if there's any question about the cause of death, the insurance company is most likely required to conduct a contestability investigation. This may delay the payout of the death benefit. If fraud is discovered or the cause of death isn't covered by the policy, the claim may be denied.

How to file a claim on a life insurance policy

You can file a life insurance claim online with most insurers; others may require you to file in person or over the phone. While the process for filing a life insurance claim can vary by insurer, here's a quick overview of the standard steps:

  1. Find the policy or contact the insurer.
    Find the insured's life insurance policy, which will have the insurance company's contact information and claim instructions. If you're unable to find the policy but know the insurance company's name, they should be able to track down the policy information once you provide certain information about yourself and the deceased. The insurer may send you a claim form to complete or direct you to an online claim form.

  2. Gather the required documentation and complete the claim form.
    The claim instructions and/or form should indicate all the information you'll need to submit with your claim, including personal details about the deceased and yourself, and the death certificate. Gather those documents and details, and complete the claim form.

  3. Choose your payout type.
    You may have the option of receiving your payout as a lump sum (most common) or as a life insurance annuity, which would pay out regularly over a specified timeframe. If you're not sure what's right for you, talk with the insurer about your options and consult with a financial advisor regarding the financial implications of the differing payout types.

  4. Submit your claim.
    Once you've completed the claim form, gathered all required documentation, and decided on potential payout options, you can submit your claim to the insurer. Assuming there are no issues, you may receive your payout in as little as a few days.

What documentation do you need when filing a life insurance claim?

While it will vary by insurer, you'll most likely need to provide the following when making a life insurance claim:

  • The insured's name, date of birth, date and cause of death, state of residence
  • The insured's Social Security number and/or the policy number on the life insurance policy
  • The insured’s original certified death certificate or a copy of the insured's certified death certificate (check with the funeral home or the state's vital statistics office)

Submitting a newspaper clipping of the insured's obituary is optional but may help speed up the process. You'll also have to fill out and submit the death benefit claim form. If there's more than one person listed as a beneficiary on the policy, each person named will have to fill out a claim form and submit the required documentation to be considered for their portion of the payout.

What would cause a life insurance claim to be denied?

Here are a few of the more common reasons for a life insurance payout denial or delay:

  • Fraud or cause-of-death concerns: The insurance company may investigate the claim if the policyholder is suspected to have lied on their application or if the insurance company suspects fraud has been committed in any way. This would lead to a delay in the payout. If life insurance fraud is found, the claim will be denied. If the cause of death falls under a policy exclusion, the death benefit may be denied — this might happen if your loved one died as the result of an illness and had a life insurance policy with an accidental death benefit versus a standard all cause death benefit.
  • Policy lapse: If the policyholder stopped making the premium payments, the policy might have lapsed. If there was a lapse in life insurance coverage at the time of death, the claim may be denied since no coverage was in force.
  • Incomplete paperwork: If you don't have all the required paperwork or information on the insured, there may be a delay in the payout until you provide the required documentation.
  • Death occurred during the contestability period: Many life insurance policies include a contestability period during which the insurer is required to review the policy application for fraud and/or material misrepresentation(s). If no fraud or material misrepresentations are found, you can still receive a death benefit, but the payout may be delayed during the investigation. If the insured was dishonest on their application, the insurance company might deny the claim, and you wouldn't receive a death benefit.

The unclaimed life insurance benefits act may help

If you don't know if your loved one had a life insurance policy, or you can't find a physical copy of the policy (which would include the insurance company's contact information and policy number), you might have trouble finding out how to file a claim. Currently, several states have passed laws requiring life insurance companies to use technology to identify policyholders who've died but whose beneficiaries haven't made a claim on the policy. In most states, the law requires insurance companies to regularly compare their policy records against the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to identify beneficiaries who haven't filed a claim.

Most states require life insurance companies to use technology to identify policyholders who've died.

Learn more about what to do if you suspect a loved one has an unclaimed life insurance death benefit.