This time I want to talk about lost life insurance policies left behind by loved ones who have passed on. People often tell me there’s no way THEY would have unclaimed money waiting for them because they are way too anal and organized to have left money lying around out there somewhere. And I always counter with the fact that if not you, then maybe a relative left money behind that you don’t know about. That’s exactly what happened to my next guest. Her name is Kerry Armstrong and she has quite a story.
So many people fail to ever search, so I have to ask: what prompted you to conduct an unclaimed money search?
My father passed away in 2013 and in dealing with his estate, I went on line to check to see if he had any unclaimed bank accounts or whatnot that I did not know about.
Where did you do your searching? Any particular website or state?
I searched using just the last name Armstrong, in the few states where my parents had lived: Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York. I believe the Dept of Treasury in each state now has a link on their website to the unclaimed assets division. I know there are services that will search for a fee, also, but I can’t see why you’d pay anyone, it’s very easy. There is also a non government search engine that will search all the state lists for no fee or anything (Missingmoney.com) and I think I may have used that also when poking around.
Were you looking for anything in particular? Or searching just in case?
No, I really wasn’t aware of anything in particular that was left unclaimed, but my father was 87 when he died and he had a lot of relatives and for most of his life, there was no digital anything – it was all on paper – so you never know.
You found an account that belonged to an ancestor. Who was it and did you know this relative when they were alive?
What turned up was my grandfather’s name, Joseph R Armstrong, with his street address (35 Academy Avenue) but in Narragansett RI, not Providence. My grandfather died in 1935 when my Dad was 9 years old. He was a detective on the Providence Police force, and he was only 44 when he died. I never knew him or my grandmother who died in 1925 a few months after my father was born. So this was all sort of poignant to me. We had nothing of his or my grandmother and knew very little about them. Anyways, I thought it was too big a coincidence, so I called the Unclaimed Assets Division. They just that it was a life insurance policy but the owner lived in Narragansett. I had googled it, and found that there was NO Academy Avenue in Narragansett, so I was pretty sure it was a mistake. They referred me to Metlife who had sent them the claim originally.
I got into a little argument over the incorrect address in their system (Narragansett vs Providence). I let them that there was no such street in Narragansett and my grandfather had the exact same birth date as the Joseph R Armstrong in their system. The first person I spoke to at Metlife was pretty defensive. She told me it was my grandfather’s fault for putting down the wrong city when he bought the policy. I didn’t know the man, but who the heck gets their own town name wrong – especially on an insurance policy?
Did Metlife come around?
After providing his birth date, Metlife agreed that it was indeed his policy that he purchased in 1914, which was when he moved to Texas to work on the Oil fields. I guess he was worried about his parents, because he was not married at the time and was fairly young. Anyhow, he stopped paying the policy in the Fall of 1929, which also really struck me, because, of course, that was the start of the great depression, and I’m sure he was hit hard. My father used to tell us stories about burning their furniture for heat one winter and people coming to their back door for food. It was really something we can’t imagine today.
Any idea how the life insurance policy went missing in the first place?
He passed away 6 years later in 1935 and I suppose he thought that since he stopped paying his premiums, the policy was worthless. That’s the only reason I can think of that he would not have told his second wife or family, because for sure they could have used the money, or maybe he just forgot about it. The strange thing is that I have searched our surname before, in 2003 when my mother died and this policy was not listed. I asked the RI Unclaimed Assets Division and they said that it has only recently been turned over by Metlife, but Metlife shows in their records that the file was given to RI Unclaimed Assets in 1993, so I have no idea why that happened that way. I suppose the fact that it listed Narragansett RI as his home maybe why they could never find his family. It appears to have been a clerical error.
1935… this money had been missing a long time. What does it take to claim such an old account?
I had to provide a copy of my drivers license and a copy of my grandfather’s death certificate and a copy of my father’s death certificate. To get my grandfather’s Death Certificate, I wrote away to the RI Dept of Records, and I think that cost 10 dollars. They mailed it to me within a few weeks.
You have to be the rightful heir or executor to claim an ancestor’s unclaimed money, right?
Yes. In the end I had Metlife divide the money into 12 separate checks and mailed one to each one of my grandfather’s grandchildren. Even though we never knew him, I thought it was sort of touching that all these years later, he had left something. Interestingly, Metlife told me that after a certain amount of time, if the children of the person have died, anyone of the grandchildren or other descendants can make the claim and can be the sole heir. They are not required to alert others or share the proceeds.
Did you run into any problems getting what you were due?
There was the matter of interest. I think different states have different laws about it, and I had no idea what the law was, but I felt that the amount they listed should include interest since they’d been holding it (and had not for some reason sent it to RI unclaimed assets) for 78 years. I called Metlife a few times about this, and each time got a different representative who all told me no, sorry that’s it. I didn’t think that wasn’t right, so I called the Insurance Commissioner for the State of Rhode Island and the attorneys there were super. They told me that RI state law required that the Insurance company pay interest on that money (which i learned was not entirely true – see below). Now, there’s interest, and there’s compounded interest, so this was interesting to me. If compounded, it would have been significantly more money because interest ON interest over 78 years adds up fast. But in the end, at least in the state of RI, it’s straight interest, not compounded.
Wow, did you win and get Metlife to pay the interest?
The RI insurance Commissioner’s office contacted Metlife and then they were VERY nice about paying interest, nicer than they had to be quite honestly. Because, in the end, in a formal letter, they explained the regulations for paying out “delayed settlement interest” differ from state to state and the insurance regulation in RI stipulates that Insurance companies only have to pay delayed settlement interest if it’s required by the state where the payee resides, the state that the policy was purchased and the state where the insured resided at the time of death. So the law is a little complicated, but 6 of my cousins still live in RI and the rest of us live in different states, so Metlife was nice about it and agreed to just pay the 9% interest based on RI state law as if all of us lived in RI. Interestingly, the Insurance regulations in MD where I live only require companies to pay out delayed settlement interest if the policy was issued in MD which seems whacky to me honestly.
Does this type of sleuthing and fighting for your rights come naturally to you? Or was it a stretch?
Yes I guess it does, but it doesn’t always pay off! But I am a commercial mortgage underwriter by trade and so I have learned to dig and dig some more if something doesn’t seem right.
OK, tell me the original value of the unclaimed life insurance you found?
And how much money did the interest add on top of that?
$372.49, or $431.76 total. Divided 12 ways, we each received a check for $37.79
What have you and your family used the money for?
I don’t actually know what my siblings or cousins did with the money, and it wasn’t actually that much of course. I used the money in part to go out to dinner with my daughter. It seemed like a nice thing to do.
Any words of encouragement to people who have thought of searching for unclaimed money belonging to their ancestors, but who haven’t pulled themselves together to go for it?
Oh it’s so easy if you have access to a computer. I am not a professional or anything, but it takes a few minutes and it’s free and if you cast a wide net, you never know whose names will pop up or what stories you’ll learn from it.
Kerry Armstrong, unclaimed money recipient, thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story on Easy Money!