The other day I saw a story on 60 Minutes that was an update of a previous story. Basically, the story was about the insurance industry and how they were negligent opaying death claims. According to the story, life insurance companies were withholding hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars of death claims from beneficiaries. The companies’ defense was that the beneficiary never put a claim in for the policy and thus, according to the insurance companies, they had no knowledge of the death. Of course, that proved to be false as companies clearly had notice. In fact, in many of the insurance company’s files it was noted that the person had died. Even more egregious, some companies who had life insurance policies and an annuity on an individual stopped making the annuity payment upon death but did not pay the death claim.
This poor behavior included some of the largest insurance companies in the country, not just smaller unknown companies. When regulators and government authorities began to take action, not surprisingly, many of the insurance companies reached settlement agreements; unfortunately, not all of them.
You may ask why the beneficiaries didn’t put a claim in for these policies. The answer is quite simple- they didn’t know about it. You would be surprised how many people forget about life insurance policies. In fact, in reality it’s just not life insurance policies that people forget about. In many situations people forget about bank accounts, brokerage statements and other valuable assets.
I bring this up because it is a reminder to people how important it is to maintain a list of your assets and where you keep your important documents. We all know that life is very unpredictable and having a document where you list what assets you own, including life insurance policies, can be invaluable in times of a family crisis or death.
This document that lists your assets should contain a variety of items. You need to list where your legal documents such as will, trust, medical and durable power of attorneys are located. I also think it would be smart to include in this document what professionals you have dealt with. For example, if you have an estate planning attorney, financial advisor or insurance agent, they should also be included in this list. After all, the purpose of this list is to provide a roadmap for your loved ones; hence, a list of professionals you’ve dealt with can be extremely important to them.
In this ever-changing world that we live in, I also think it is important to include passwords and login information on this list for any online accounts you may have. Once again, having access to online accounts can make life much easier on your loved ones in cases of an emergency.
It is important to remember why you are doing this document. Quite simply, it is because you love your family and you want to make things as easy as possible on them. Death and family emergencies are always emotional and always occur at the wrong time. However, you can make life much easier on your loved ones by being prepared. That is why I strongly recommend that everyone sits down and composes a list of their assets, legal documents, professional advisors as well as login information for online accounts. I recognize this is not an easy task and it’s not something that you do once and then forget about. Unfortunately, every so often you need to update your list. After all, everything in this world changes and so does your individual situation. That is why you have to get into the habit of constantly updating this information. After all, for it to be valuable and helpful it needs to be current.
One last note and that is to keep in mind that you do need to let someone know where this information is being kept. You don’t have to tell everyone, but do tell the person you trust the most, the person who’s going to be in charge of your affairs if you are unable to do so.
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. His website is www.bloomassetmanagement.com. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at -.