Dear Mr. Berko: My sister and I had a love-hate relationship with our father for the last 10 years of his life. He died last year at age 69. After Mom's death in 2006, we had good times and bad times together. He told my sister and me many times over those 10 years about a $500,000 life insurance policy that would be divided evenly between us. But it's been a year, and we can't find that policy. We've searched all over for it. Do you have any ideas or suggestions? We're frantic. — NK, Buffalo, N.Y.
Dear NK: Of course you are!
I assume that you've checked all his drawers, estate papers, files and safe-deposit boxes and even dug up the backyard. Seeing as that has turned up diddly squat, call your dad's insurance agent — the person who sold him his auto, homeowners and health policies. If that turns out to be a goose egg, then ask his former employer. Oftentimes, employers will offer term life insurance policies at very attractive rates to their employees. If that fails, then you might check with your dad's accountant and ask what interest expenses or interest income was included in your dad's tax returns, as some life insurance policies have investment accounts. And if you think that your dad purchased a life insurance policy through Aetna, Prudential or the like, you can call claims offices. The people there will acknowledge whether they have a policy on your dad's life. And they should tell you without requiring proof of a father-child relationship.
If all that fails and you still have energy remaining, get thee in touch with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which is a regulatory agency for the insurance industry. It's risible and toothless, but several years ago, the NAIC created the Life Insurance Policy Locator Service. You can find it online. A "helpful person" there will poll its member list of nearly 500 insurance companies. Each company will search its records for any life insurance policies in your dad's name. So, if good fortune smiles and a policy is found, that "helpful person" will notify you. However, that "helpful person" will need information from you supporting your affiliation with the deceased before any pertinent information can be released.
Sometimes an insurance benefit is turned over to the state in which the policy was purchased. This possibility will require another search, and this one will be laborious. The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators' website has links to all state programs that allow you to do a free search online. There are 50 states, so let your fingers do the clicking on the keyboard.
I'm reluctant to make the following suggestion, but after 41 years writing this column, I've heard nearly every bad-luck, sad-luck and no-luck story out there. I hope this isn't one of them. Sometimes parents, in a desperate attempt to garner their conflicted children's favor, will fly a false flag. Two years ago, an 80-year-old woman persuaded her 51-year-old daughter to give up her teaching job, move in with her and minister to her needs. She told her daughter that she owned a variable annuity worth $1.4 million. After the mother's death, the daughter would receive that sum plus or minus the change in market value of the mutual fund sub-accounts. The mother died last year at age 82. I discovered that the mother, at age 78, had invested only $10,000 in the annuity, which had grown to just $13,200. And last March, I reluctantly gave the daughter the straight skinny. I'll never forget her reaction. My heart still hurts.
This may be the case with your father. If your searches come up empty, don't think badly of him. I'm sure, considering the death of your mom, that your dad wanted and needed your attention and devotion more than ever. Sadly, this may have been the only way he knew how to get it.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at [email protected] To find out more about Malcolm Berko and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.