Figure represents 44 percent of funds reported for year
State Treasurer John Perdue’s Unclaimed Property Division returned $1.2 million in life insurance benefits for fiscal year 2019, 44 percent of the amount it took in from insurance companies during the period. The amount returned has slightly increased from the $1.1 million paid to beneficiaries in fiscal year 2018. In all, the Unclaimed Property Division has returned $5.2 million in life insurance benefits under Treasurer Perdue.
“I’d like to congratulate two groups – the dedicated members of my staff who helped reunite those residents due life insurance benefits and the companies who followed legislative and judicial rulings in reporting the policies as unclaimed property,” Treasurer Perdue said.
In fiscal 2019, insurance companies reported to the Treasurer’s Office $2.7 million in unclaimed life insurance policies. These represent cases in which the beneficiaries did not know they had funds coming to them; often, people will fail to tell friends and family that a policy exists.
Fiscal 2019’s receipts and returns mark just the latest chapter in Treasurer Perdue’s crusade to see that life insurance beneficiaries get what is rightfully theirs. Before he initiated court action in 2012, companies were failing to pay beneficiaries, even though it knew in many cases that the policy holder was deceased.
The Treasurer pointed out that those same companies applied the Social Security Death Master File to cut off annuity payments but failed to use that same file to determine insurance policy payouts. Companies maintained that the beneficiary must first file a claim in order to receive proceeds.
“How do you file a claim if you don’t know a policy exists?” Treasurer Perdue asked. “That’s the definition of unclaimed property and should be treated as such.”
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. Litigation, which is still ongoing, changed the landscape of life insurance reporting. Reported policies, and hence returns, began increasing:
- 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
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.
“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.”
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.”
After all the necessary paperwork had been completed, the Treasurer’s Unclaimed Property Division staff verified the amount. 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.”