Over the years, I’ve talked with a lot of people about their life insurance. The one thing that stands out is that most people know they have some life insurance but don’t know much about it. In this article, I’m going to show you how to organize your life insurance paperwork so that you'll know what you have and also have it in one place.
Make a list of all the people in your family
The first step is to make a list of each person in your family that you could potentially be responsible for if they died. For each person, you want to list their name, relationship, date of birth, tobacco use and overall health.
I include tobacco use and health so you’ll have some idea of whether if needed, they could qualify for life insurance. You'd also know if you are ever presented a guaranteed issue offer who might need it.
Let’s do an example. Let’s say you are married, have three kids, a grandchild and your wife helps her mom manage her money. Your list might look something like this.
- John Doe, Self, Date of Birth, No tobacco, Type 2
- Mary Doe, Spouse, Date of Birth, No tobacco, Healthy
- Jeff Doe, Son, Date of Birth, No tobacco, Asthma
- Jane Doe, Daughter, Date of Birth, No tobacco, Healthy
- Sally Doe, Daughter, Date of Birth, No tobacco, Healthy
- Jessica Doe, Granddaughter, Date of Birth, No tobacco, Healthy
- Samantha Doe, Mother-in-Law, Date of Birth, No tobacco, High blood pressure
Your list might only have one person on it. If so that’s ok.
Your list might be longer. Maybe you have a bunch of kids and grandkids. And while you think you might not be responsible for them, if the worst does happen and your kids need help, remember they might ask you for help.
Believe me, it happens everyday so you have to be ready.
After you’ve made this list, move onto step 2.
Identify all the life insurance your family has inforce
Next, for each person in your family, you want to identify all the life insurance each person has both at work and individually.
To help you figure out what life insurance everybody has, here’s a list of things to consider to help jog your memory.
- Life insurance at work This would include any basic group term life insurance, supplemental term life insurance, spouse or dependent life insurance and any other life insurance that is payroll deducted from a family member's paycheck.
- Individual life insurance policies This would include any term life insurance, universal life insurance, whole life insurance or any other type of life insurance like accidental death insurance.
- Life insurance another family bought for someone Don't forget about any policies a parent might have bought for you or for your children.
- Child term life insurance riders These could be either at work or included with your individual policies.
- Credit life insurance This could be any life insurance you bought when you took out a mortgage, car or credit card.
- Life insurance through any association or union If you are union member or member of any type of organization, check and see if you have any life insurance through that group.
- Life insurance offered through any bank or credit card accounts If you have any type of life insurance through any financial institution.
- Life insurance connected to any retirement plan Sometimes retirement arrangements where you work might provide some life insurance.
- Any other life insurance out there You might discover you have some life insurance with someone else. Maybe life insurance purchased by your employer for key person insurance or some sort of buy sell agreement.
For now, just list the name of the insured, type of life insurance and the amount. Here's a sample list for you to see as an example.
- John, Basic group life insurance, $40,000
- John, Supplemental group life insurance, $150,000
- John, Individual term policy, $500,000
- John, Universal life, $100,000
- Mary, Individual term policy, $200,000
- Jane, Individual whole life, $10,000
- Sally, Individual whole life, $10,000
Make a spreadsheet for group term life insurance policies
Group life insurance is life insurance you get through work. Keep in mind that not all life insurance you get through work is "group" life insurance. Any individual life insurance you pick up through work that you pay through payroll deduction will go on your individual life insurance spreadsheet. You won't list any individual life insurance that you actually own on your group term life spreadsheet.
Generally, this will be just three types of life insurance. Those are basic group term life insurance, supplement group term life insurance and any group accidental death.
For every person in the family that you are responsible for, list the details of the group term life insurance plans they have where they work.
In your spreadsheet, you want to list and track the following items.
- Insured - who is covered
- Face amount - how much is the life insurance
- Type of life insurance - is it basic, supplemental or accidental death
- Have copy of group certificate - do you have a copy of the group certificate
- List of riders - what riders are attached to the policy
- Primary beneficiaries
- Contingent beneficies
- Human resources contact
- Convertible - can you convert it to a whole life policy
- Portable - can you keep the term insurance when you leave the employer
- Attained age or issue age rates - do the rates increase as you get older or do you keep the starting age.
- Age reduction schedule - does the life insurance decrease when you reach a certain age
- Premium - how much does the life insurance cost
- Payroll frequency - how often does the premium get deducted from you paycheck
- Insurance company
The human resources department of the employer is another place to check. Sometimes though, without the group certificate, you are often guessing as to how the plan works. It's pretty common for people to repeat what they've been told by the agent only to find out the agent wasn't correct.
Just do the best you can. Your family doesn't own the group insurance anyway along with a list of other problems. What it is today may not be what it is tomorrow. You'll want to update it when anyone changes jobs.
A good place to create these spreadsheets is by using a google spreadsheet.
Once you've got a completed the details of the group term life insurance spreadsheet, print it out so you can keep in a file.
Make a spreadsheet for individual life insurance policies you own
Next up, you want to make a similar spreadsheet for each policy that you own and control. Just like you did for the group term life insurance, you'll want to do this for every member of your family as well.
Here are the details I'd track down for all of your individual policies.
- Face Amount
- Policy #
- Type of life insurance - term, whole life, universal life, accidental death
- Issue date
- Have policy?
- Outstanding loan
- Dividend option selected
- Life insurance riders
- Conversion option
- Contingent owner
- Primary Beneficiary
- Contingent Beneficiary
- Premium mode
- Payment method
- Tobacco rating
- Medical rating
- Insurance company
- Phone number
- Agent phone number
- Agent website
The best place to find this information is in the life insurance policy and paperwork you got from the insurance company when you bought the policy.
I like to find things in the contract because the contract is what decides everything. If you have trouble finding it, figuring it out, or anything like that, put a call into your agent or the insurance company if you don't know who your agent is. Ask them for what you need and they'll answer your questions and send anything to you that you need.
Next, you'll want to print out the spreadsheet and begin collecting all of this information in one spot.
Create a physical file for life insurance papers
What you want to do now is create a physical life insurance file. I like to use a file folder but if you want to use a more cool organizer, feel free to do that too.
Whatever you use, you want to keep the following:
- The print out of the group term life insurance spreadsheet you made
- The print out of the individual life insurance spreadsheet you made
- Each life insurance policy
- Any sales material provided at the time you bought the policy
- The illustration used to show you how the policy works
- Any annual statements you receive
- Other correspondence and confirmation from the insurance company like beneficiary changes, ownership, changes and so on.
- Each group insurance certificate if you obtain it (sometimes you can't)
- Employee benefit guide
- Annual benefits confirmation statement
- Any other papers that document life insurance coverage. A loan document with a credit life purchase listed for example.
That's where the next step begins.
Make a list of missing items and things you need to change
- Request John's universal life policy
- Obtain the last annual statement for John's universal life policy
- Call employer to see if I can get a copy of the group certificate
- Find benefit book from work that explains the life insurance
- Change beneficiary on Sally's policy
- Check to see if policies on kids are whole life or term
- Check to see if Mary's policy is still inforce
- Confirm old policy I found is lapsed
Getting organized is the first step. Later, you'll be needing these items to figure out exactly what you have and what steps you should take to round out your life insurance program.
Contact the insurance companies to get missing documents, information and forms to fix items
Once you have your list of missing items, it's time to start calling the insurance companies. Here's a sample of the things I'd focus on when you call.
- Request missing policies If you are missing any policies, ask them to send you a duplicate. Some insurance companies may charge a fee for duplicate policies and offer to send a policy certificate instead.
- Confirm your beneficiaries are set up right Verify your beneficiaries and make sure that you have both a primary and contingent beneficiary. If there's any question about your beneficiary, go ahead and submit a new beneficiary change to make sure it's correct.
- Name a contingent owner on minor's policies If you own a policy on a child, arrange to name a contingent owner in case something happens to you.
- Clarify any missing details in your spreadsheet If there was anything you didn't know when filling out your spreadsheet, ask for that information. For example. what riders are part of your policy, etc.
- Correct any personal information that is incorrect Make sure your name, address and phone is correct. Has any owner, insured or beneficiary changed their name or moved. Update this information with the insurance company.
- Request missing annual statements If you don't have your last annual statement, request it.
- Automatic premium loan If you have a permanent policy, ask what if automatic premium loan is selected.
- Review payment methods Make sure you know the premiums, and when they are due.
- Request removal of tobacco rating If you used to smoke and have stopped, ask for a removal of the smoker's rating.
Once you've completed your list, follow through on making the changes that need to be in writing. Confirm you have received everything you requested.
Be sure to update your spreadsheet with any new information you find out.
Put insurance company and agent contact information in your smart phone
You should have everything pretty well organized at this point. The next thing I would do is put each insurance company's and agent you deal with name and phone number in your smart phone.
That way it'll be there when you need it.
Set up automatic payments through electronic funds transfer or online bill payment
If you manage your checking account well, most insurance companies will set you up on automatic drafts from your checking account. If you prefer, you can also use the online bill pay option to send payments when due.
I personally use a combination of these two payment methods.
By doing this, you'll make sure that your premium payments get to the insurance company when they are due so your coverage doesn't lapse.
Add premium due dates, draft dates and amount as recurring events in your calendar
For each policy that you pay on, list the payment details in your calendar. This is what makes digital calendars great because you can add them as recurring events so they will automatically show up each month to remind you the premiums are due.
I like to follow this format:
- Life insurance company name $124.95 EFT
In that example it was an automatic draft out of a checking account.
Then you won't forget any premiums when they are due. Assuming you look at your calendar!
Put all of this information in a safe place
Bonus Step: Set up online access and smartphone apps
Many insurance companies give you the ability to access your life insurance policies online. If they do, register for online access for each policy. Some insurance companies are more technologically advanced than others.
So just check and see what's available and take advantage of whatever they offer.
Only then can you figure out what you need to do set up your life insurance properly.
Let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions or questions.
Also, if you need some individual life insurance, and want to help support this site, why not let me be your life insurance agent. Click the blue button just below or click ask for a proposal.