State Treasurer John Perdue’s Unclaimed Property Division has paid beneficiaries in fiscal year 2018 more than a quarter of all life insurance proceeds ever returned by the state, and in the last seven fiscal years has accounted for a cumulative 78 percent of state history totals in that category.
Perdue’s office has returned to beneficiaries $1.1 million in fiscal year 2018, which is roughly 27 percent of the $4.1 million in insurance proceeds ever paid out in West Virginia.
Results to return life insurance proceeds over the last seven fiscal years have also been impressive, as these escalating figures show:
- 2012 – 20 claims, $24,286 returned
- 2013 – 25 claims, $78,220 returned
- 2014 – 62 claims, $177,854 returned
- 2015 – 87 claims, $415,443 returned
- 2016 – 192 claims, $627,236 returned
- 2017 – 233 claims, $832,195 returned
- 2018 – 379 claims, $1.1 million returned
The cumulative $3.2 million returned in since 2012 represents 78 percent of state history total for life insurance proceeds returned.
Unclaimed property is any asset from which an individual has become separated, usually unknowingly. In the case of life insurance, many beneficiaries did not know they were due policy benefits. Historically, many insurance companies were not paying out policy proceeds until a claim was filed even though, in many instances, minimal research would have shown the insured had died. Additionally, companies were not turning the funds over to the Treasury for possible return when beneficiaries were not found.
That began to change in fiscal 2012, when the Treasurer’s Office launched litigation against uncooperative companies. Treasurer Perdue’s subsequent Supreme Court and legislative victories have encouraged insurance companies to comply.
“Obviously we’re pleased and proud that our efforts on behalf of beneficiaries has been effective,” Treasurer Perdue said. “I have never believed that because you misplace or are unaware of an asset that you should simply lose it. It’s particularly instrumental in the realm of insurance policies, when a loved one may, in older years, forget to mention a life insurance policy in a safe deposit box or even a shoe box.”
In 2012, a county circuit judge first rebuffed Treasurer Perdue. The judge sided with the insurance company defendants, which contended a beneficiary had to file a claim to get paid.
“How do you file a claim if you don’t know you have unclaimed property?” Perdue asked.
Perdue pointed out, those same companies were applying the Social Security Death Master File to cut off annuity payments but claiming that using it to determine insurance policy payouts was too cumbersome.
The Treasurer eventually appealed to the state Supreme Court, which remanded the case back to the same circuit court, ruling that life insurance companies have an obligation to determine whether insureds have died, and thus whether beneficiaries are due proceeds. In April 2016, former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law HB4739, a bipartisan effort to clarify the obligations companies possess. Use of the Death Master File was part of the law.
Jackie Godwin received a $70,000 unclaimed property life insurance check from her late husband in 2017. She had a vague notion that it existed but her husband died suddenly without imparting information. Her insurance company turned over the funds, in wake of the Treasurer’s Office past victories.
“No one ever contacted me, no,” said Godwin, 52, of Parsons in Tucker County. “I never spoke to anyone from that insurance company. I was kind of angered. Actually, angered is putting it lightly. I could have used that years ago raising my kids. Then I wouldn’t have had to work three or four jobs at a time.”
To say Godwin was surprised is an understatement.
“The people at the Treasurer’s Office were so sweet, so nice and so very helpful,” Godwin said. “When they told me the amount I darn near hit the floor. I dropped all that paperwork I was holding. Then I started crying.”