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Life insurance companies caught keeping billions: Are you owed money?

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It’s not uncommon for a loved one to pass away without telling family members about a life insurance policy.  But, some states have a way for you to find out if a policy does exist.

Today, I spoke with Washington’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner and it provided me with a website to help you find old life insurance policies. According to the OIC, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners are building a uniform system across the nation for consumers in each state to search and review these policies. The system should become available by mid-November.

Some states aren’t as transparent as Washington in providing consumers with this kind of information. In some cases, it’s up to the consumer to follow up with the life insurance company to receive what they’re owed.  In the state of Georgia families have recovered nearly $200 million since the state signed onto settlements with two dozen insurance companies that had previously failed to pay beneficiaries who were unaware of their loved ones’ policies.

But a Channel 2 Action News investigation found some other states doing a much better job at getting that money into the hands of its rightful owners.

“I think all the states should be the same. For the insurance companies, it shouldn’t matter what state you live in, if you live in Georgia, California, Colorado, wherever,” said Donna Delzingaro, who along with her sisters recovered $122,000 they didn’t know existed.

Delzingaro’s father passed away in 1990, leaving behind an unknown life insurance policy he’d purchased through his company.

“We had three or four personal policies that we had collected on. We thought it was done,” said Smith.

But then Delzingaro got a surprise phone call from the state of Florida.

“She said, ‘I have found an insurance policy from your father that goes back, and it’s for $122,000.'” recalls Delzingaro, “So I’m thinking, ‘Oh, OK this is a scam.'”

But the real scam was that the insurance company had been holding onto the family’s money for more than 20 years without trying to find them.

An industry-wide audit found systemic problems, with companies failing to pay beneficiaries, who didn’t know to file a claim.

“It’s very disheartening because people would not even think to look for this, and I think that they know that,” Smith said.

The consumer group Georgia Watch calls the insurance companies’ behavior outrageous.

“You ought to be able to have some sense of trust in any company in which you do business with,” said Georgia Watch director Liz Coyle.

Florida led the investigation and ultimately settled with two dozen of the nation’s largest life insurance companies.

Now they’re required to check all of their policies against a federal list of people who’ve died, and to try to find their beneficiaries.

Nationwide, those companies have had to pay out more than $6 billion to families for previously unclaimed policies.

If they can’t find the beneficiary, the policy is turned over to the state’s unclaimed property fund.

“I think having it go to the unclaimed property account does only one thing, which is to take away some of the incentive the insurance company has to not find the beneficiaries,” said Coyle.

Some tips for families:

Talk to your loved ones ahead of time about policies and where to find the information.

Check the state’s unclaimed property website for everywhere you’ve lived.  Click here for Washington’s unclaimed cash site.

© 2016 Cox Media Group.

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