Your dear Uncle Harold always assured his dear wife, Aunt Myrtle, that she would be left with a comfortable sum of insurance money after he died, thanks to a paid-up policy he'd taken out 30 years earlier. But then, after dear Uncle Harold did indeed pass on, Aunt Myrtle couldn't find the policy anywhere - not in their safety deposit box, not in the secret cookie jar, not in the old rolltop desk. And she didn't know which company issued it. Is Aunt Myrtle out of luck?

Fortunately, no. The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association knows that policies sometimes go missing. So the association's OmbudService will, on request, contact its dozens of member companies to conduct a policy search.

The CLHIA insists on two basic requirements: 1) There must be a reasonable basis to believe that some policy does exist (i.e. no fishing expeditions); and 2) Specific factual data about the deceased is available (in other words, they won't search for a policy for a cousin who lived out west somewhere).

But even before you contact them, the association has some useful hints that could help you find that policy without having to conduct an industry-wide search (see shaded box). 

 Tips for conducting your own policy search

  • Review bank statements to see if there is any evidence of automatic premium withdrawals you could trace
  • Contact the deceased's former employers to find out about group insurance policies that may have been in effect
  • Review bank accounts to see if there is any evidence of automatic premium withdrawals
  • If any insurance policy is found, check the application form (available from the insurer). It often includes details about all other life insurance policies that may have been bought
  • Contact any professional association, alumni group, or automobile association the deceased may have belonged to. They often give their members the opportunity to buy life insurance policies
  • Check with credit card companies to see if the deceased bought life insurance or accidental death insurance through them
 Adapted from the CLHIA

If you've done your due diligence and still haven't found anything, you can download a Request for Policy Search from the  Canadian Life and Health Insurance OmbudService website.

In one year, 22 per cent of the people who requested searches found policies. In about a quarter of those cases, the policies had lapsed, or had been surrendered for their cash value. But others paid out from $3,500 to $210,000.

The search is free. But there are time limitations. No search will be done until three months have elapsed from the date of death and no search will be carried out more than two years after the person died. 

A few insurance companies have their own websites that list unclaimed life insurance policy amounts. The Co-operators website, for instance, has a searchable database of 676 unclaimed balances for people entitled to funds that are unclaimed from life or health insurance, annuity, or group insurance products. Go to the Co-operators' website, click on "Client Services" and then on "Unclaimed Property."

People in Quebec also have the option of searching for lost policies through that province's  Register of Unclaimed Property website (see previous section on credit unions).

In B.C., all holders of unclaimed property (including insurance companies) must maintain a database that is available to the public. Some companies choose to have B.C.'s  Unclaimed Property Society host the data on their unclaimed property.

Other companies maintain their own web-based searchable databases. They include: 

To Part 4: Unclaimed income tax refunds