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How to claim on life insurance

Death is something we usually avoid talking or thinking about. And when someone dies it can be both extremely emotional and stressful when it comes to sorting through the paperwork.

There’s a lot of administration to work through when someone dies, including registering the death, informing banks, and claiming life insurance after death.

You also need to consider things like inheritance tax, how to organise the deceased person’s estate, and probate if it applies. It might be the case that many of these tasks have already been planned out by the person who died, especially when it comes to life insurance

A life insurance claim form with a pen lying on it

Here we look at everything you need to know about how claiming on life insurance works. We’ll look at how long it takes, what you need to do, and what paperwork you need.


How do I claim on someone’s life insurance?

The first step to claiming on a life insurance policy after someone has died is to contact the life insurance provider. Tell them you want to make a claim and it should give you all the details you need.

You should be able to find out details of the provider on any communications between them and the person who held the policy. This could be an annual statement, sent in the post or via email, or a welcome pack.  

Details of the best way to contact the insurer should be within these policy documents but you can also find them on the insurer’s website. There should be a telephone number, postal address, or even an online claim form. 

Many insurers have changed the way they deal with life insurance claims after the coronavirus pandemic. They might be able to start a claim after you fill in an online form or send the details via email. This is because insurers have seen big rises in the number of people contacting them and staff shortages which have resulted in long waiting times for phone calls. 

Claiming on life insurance after death doesn’t have to be time consuming and stressful. The process is made easier if you find the following details and documents, which you need to make a claim.

  • The full name, address, and policy number of the person who died.
  • Your full name, contact details, and relationship to the deceased.
  • Death certificate - You can only get this once the death has been registered. It’s worth having a few copies just in case one gets lost. You usually need to send the original document to an insurer, so get a few copies if there’s more than one insurance policy in place. 
  • Insurance claim form - You should get this from the insurer, either a paper copy or an online document. 
  • Insurance policy - The life insurance policy document should be sent when the policy was first bought, but is usually available online as well. Or if you can’t find it you can always request a replacement.  

Not sure if there is a life insurance policy in place, or can’t find any details of it? You could use the Association of British Insurers’ (ABI) tracker or the Experian Unclaimed Assets Register (UAR)


How long do you have to make a life insurance claim?

There’s no legal deadline for making an insurance claim after someone has died, but it’s generally better to do it as soon as possible. This is because life insurance claims can take time, especially if there are complicated circumstances. So, the sooner you get the ball rolling, the sooner the money might be paid out.

In some cases life insurance policies remain unclaimed, if for example someone hasn’t told their family or friends there was a policy in place. But, there’s no timeframe for an insurance claim. If money is due then it can be claimed at any point after a person has died. 

Tracking down the insurance policy might take a little time though. This is because life insurers do not have to keep hold of policy documents forever. They usually keep them for around two years after they’ve been informed of a death. 

After this point if the insurer can’t get hold of anyone to process the claim, the document is passed to the UAR. This is a list of all unclaimed assets, which is accessible for a fee. 

It stays on the register for 15 years and by this point if the policy is still unclaimed the money tends to go to a charity. However, even after this time it’s still possible to make a claim, and get a payout, on a life insurance policy. If it’s a whole life insurance policy, this usually isn’t added to the UAR until what would be the policyholder’s 100th birthday.  


How long does life insurance take to pay out?

There’s no set timeframe for life insurance payments to be made as they all depend on the policy in place and the death. 

Let’s say that it’s relatively straightforward and there are no disputes over the circumstances of the death or the named beneficiaries. The money could be paid out quickly, sometimes in around a month or even a few days.

If an investigation needs to take place into the death, or there are lots of beneficiaries or complications with them, it could take longer.

You should be given a rough indication of how long it might take by the insurer when you make the claim. Having all the relevant documents and details in place could speed up the process.

How the insurance policy was written could also impact the timing of any payouts. If the life insurance policy has been written in trust, this means the policy is looked after by a board of trustees. These could be the policyholder’s friends, family members, or a solicitor. If it’s written in trust, this usually makes the process of life insurance payments faster.  


When might life insurance not pay out?

Life insurance payments are generally one of the most straightforward when it comes to protection policies, and have one of the highest rates of successful payments. 

In 2020, 98% of life insurance payments were made, according to data from the ABI. The average amount of money paid for personal and company policies was £79,304. 

However, in some cases claims are rejected and life insurers won’t pay out. These should all be detailed in the life insurance policy documents. The exact reasons depend upon the policy in place but most don’t pay out if the person has died because they took their own life after a year or 18 months of buying the policy. There might also be restrictions around payments if the person died because of a drug or alcohol overdose. 

If the person who died hasn’t declared any pre-existing health conditions, and they’ve died because of one of these, the insurer might also reject the claim. 

The insurer might also only pay out if premium payments for the policy were continually made and the policyholder was still making these up until their death. 


How do I appeal if a claim is rejected?

If you make a life insurance claim and it’s rejected, you could make a direct complaint to the insurer. It then has to investigate the complaint and has eight weeks to do this. If by the end of the eight weeks you haven’t heard from the insurer, or it hasn’t changed its decision, you could escalate your complaint. 

The free Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) could look into your complaint independently. It should investigate the case and if it decides the claim should have been paid it can order the insurer to do this. It could also order the insurer to compensate you for any expenses you’ve incurred during the process. 


Can I claim on my life insurance policy before I die?

There are some situations where you might be able to claim on your life insurance policy before you die and get a payout. This depends on the policy in place, the insurer, and the specific circumstances. But usually this could happen if the policyholder is diagnosed with a terminal illness and has less than 12 months to live.

There are many other types of protection policies that are designed to pay out before a policyholder dies. They include critical illness cover, which pays out if the policyholder is diagnosed with a specific illness or condition, as listed on the policy.