Few of us like to spend our free time organizing our important financial documents, but the benefits can be tremendous for your peace of mind and can ultimately save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
Billions of dollars in life insurance proceeds remain unclaimed in Florida by beneficiaries who are entitled to the funds. These beneficiaries do not voluntarily waive their right to the funds. They either do not know the policies exist or they are not aware they are entitled to the money. In fact, a recent study by Consumer Reports found that one out of 600 Americans is the beneficiary of an unclaimed life insurance policy with an average benefit of $2,000.
A new Florida law recently took effect that requires all life insurance companies and annuity companies when they learn of an insured’s death to take proactive steps to pay the proceeds to the beneficiary within four months. Further, an insurer now has a duty to annually check the Social Security Administration’s database of death records and compare the list against its own list of insureds.
This new law applies to individually owned life insurance policies, single life annuity contracts, and retained asset accounts (those temporary cash accounts that life insurance companies establish after the death of an insured while the beneficiary is deciding what to do with the funds). The new law does NOT apply to group life insurance, accidental death policies, or credit life policies. The law also does not apply to other financial institutions, such as banks or credit unions.
Although this new law is welcome news to Floridians, it does not give us a pass to keep sloppy financial records if we want our loved ones to inherit our money and assets after we die.
There is currently over $1 billion in unclaimed property with the Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Funds. Many of the funds sitting there come from accounts that go unclaimed after the death of a loved one. Why? Presumably because no one knew the accounts existed, or the deceased person kept poor or no financial records.
You should at a minimum organize the following financial and legal records and keep them accessible to a trusted loved one(s) should you die or become incapacitated:
- Recent account statements for each of your liquid assets (bank accounts, investment accounts, etc.)
- Life insurance policies, along with beneficiary confirmation from your insurance company
- Recent retirement account statements, along with beneficiary confirmation from the companies
- Copies of deeds to any real properties you own, along with the most current tax bill
- Copies of your last year’s tax return
- Copies of recent credit card statements and other outstanding loans or debts
- Copies of your property insurance policies
- List of online accounts, along with your usernames and passwords
- Burial, funeral contracts, and cemetery plot deeds
- Your estate planning documents, including your will, any trusts, medical and financial powers of attorney
This list is not exhaustive but it will be go a long way to helping your loved ones track down your assets and discern your final wishes.
You can store this information physically in binders, file folders, or file cabinets. Alternatively, you now have the option of storing these documents and your wishes online with services, such as Everplans, Docubank, or Legal Vault. Some services also allow you to name “deputies” who you authorize with either immediate or post-death access to the information.
The bottom line is that being organized is a HUGE gift to your family. After all, who wants to leave behind a mess as their legacy to their loved ones?
Want to see if you or a loved one has unclaimed property with the State of Florida? You can do a free search by a person’s name for unclaimed funds at www.FLTreasureHunt.org.