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Insurance Carrier: United Healthcare
State: Pennsylvania

Consumer Complaint:

My son died in an auto accident. He had a policy thru work. We filed the claim. First they asked for all the info. about his death (police report, blood work). Sent information. Waited 10 days. No check. Was told he did not name a beneficiary. Mailed form to us to name his mother as executor. Returned form. Waited 10 days. No check. Received letter today stating because he did not name a beneficiary we would need to go through probate court. This has been going on since 6/30. Why we were not told weeks ago about these problems?? Every time we reply with information they request, we need to do more. We based his funeral expenses on the policy and the bill is coming up on 2 months old. We are concluding they are delaying not to pay.

Insurance Expert Answer:

My sincerest condolences on the loss of your son. I can appreciate how overwhelming this can be, but perhaps some independent 3rd party information can be of some consolation.

Although it may appear that way to you, I don't think United Healthcare is trying to add to your woes or make life difficult or deny benefits. Most life insurance policies are payable to a named beneficiary. Where there is not a surviving named beneficiary, things get more complicated.

The proceeds are then payable to the estate of the deceased. (There historically have been exceptions for small policies -- typically below $5,000 -- where a "facility of payment" provision allows small face amounts to be paid directly to relatives and/or a funeral home. If you son's policy has such a provision, you might ask to be paid under such a clause.)

Assuming that the policy was larger than one that could use a facility of payment clause, or the policy did not have one, your son's estate likely will receive the proceeds, but to make payment the insurance company must give the payment to what the law of his state regards as his official "personal representative" -- sometimes the person is called the Administrator of the Estate" or where there is a Will, the "Executor of the Estate" etc. -- the titles vary by state. The laws of the state of your son's residence will govern what has to be done to be named personal representative and receive payment -- and typically that involves filing the Will (if there was one) or if not, filing a petition to be named personal representative at the Probate or Surrogates court (the names vary state to state). The personal representative of the estate then gets the proceeds check (which typically comes with interest from date of death or shortly thereafter), deposits it into an estate bank account, pays off any possible creditors of the estate [such as the funeral home] and all other expenses of the administration of the estate [filing fees, lawyer fees, if any, etc.] and then distributes the balance to the "heirs at law" of the estate -- in most states where the person is unmarried and has no children that means the surviving parent -- but again, laws vary from state to state and sometimes siblings collect, etc.

Go to the local probate court and ask what it takes to file to become a personal representative of your son. In some states the whole process is relatively easy and fast for "small estates" -- what constitutes a small estate varies from $10,000 to $99,999 by state. If it does not qualify as a small estate you should see a lawyer about the matter as it is a true hassle.

Our affiliate lists numerous qualified and recommended lawyers. ALSO, if there is any possibility that the death was the fault of someone else -- another driver, defective equipment or design, etc. see a lawyer. It won't bring your son back, but sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to make sure the same tragedy does not impact others.