On April 25, 2011, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and California State Controller John Chiang announced that they are investigating Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”) for a failure to pay out life insurance benefits after learning of an insured’s death.  It appears that while MetLife learned of its insured’s deaths through a database prepared by the Social Security Administration called “Death Master,” which lists all Americans who die, MetLife failed to use this information to pay legitimate claims. 

As noted in the California Department of Insurance’s Press Release:

The Commissioner and the Controller are responding to preliminary findings from an audit the Controller launched in 2008, indicating that for two decades, MetLife failed to pay life insurance policy benefits to named beneficiaries or the State even after learning that an insured had died. The company has a huge number of so-called Industrial Policies, valued at an estimated $1.2 billion, which were primarily sold in the 1940s and 1950s to working-class people. The payments, which were collected weekly, typically were higher than the final death benefit. The Controller’s unclaimed property audit indicates that MetLife did not take steps to determine whether policy owners of dormant accounts are still alive, and if not, pay the beneficiaries, or the State if they cannot be located.

In addition, the preliminary findings revealed that MetLife may have similarly failed to contact the owners of annuity contracts:

Simultaneously, the preliminary findings show, when MetLife knew that an owner of an annuity contract – which generates income for the policy owner at the time the annuity matures – had died, or the annuity had matured, the company did not contact the policy holder or beneficiary, even though it subscribed to the “Death Master” database. Furthermore, MetLife continued making premium payments from the policy holder’s account until the cash reserves were used up, and then cancelled the contract.

While Monday’s press release was limited to the State’s investigation of MetLife, both the “Commissioner and Controller believe that these practices are not isolated, but are systemic in the insurance industry.”

If you believe you have a life insurance policy or annuity issued by MetLife, or any other insurer, for which you have failed to properly receive life insurance benefits, contact McKennon Law Group PC for a free consultation.