After a bit of searching, I found a Wall Street Journal article from 2012, “MetLife Settles Unclaimed Life-Benefit Probe”, and a follow-up article the same year “Michigan Joins Metlife Settlement Regarding Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits”.
Apparently, MetLife was involved in a class action suit in 2012 regarding their practice of closing life insurance policies based on statistics rather than confirming deaths, and the settlement affects policies going back to the early 1900’s. This is notable because MetLife was founded March 24, 1868, less than 3 years after the end of the Civil War, so why were the other 32 years of policies not affected?
On January 6, 1915, MetLife completed the mutualization process,
changing from a stock life insurance company owned by individuals to a
mutual company operating without external shareholders and for the
benefit of policyholders.
I haven’t read the settlement, but I’m going to guess that January 6, 1915 is the start date for the policies that were affected by the settlement. Therefore, based on the above date and a date mentioned in one of the articles, the affected policies may range from 1915 to 2009.
From the first article:
The agreement also commits MetLife to trying to find hundreds of
thousands of older people to whom it sold small policies—most less
than $1,000 in face value—as far back as the early 1900s, or their
families. Those policies are together valued at more than $400
million, according to the insurer and state officials. They were sold
by agents who walked through urban neighborhoods, and typically
collected the small premiums weekly or monthly. Many people bought the
policies to cover burial expenses.
From the second article:
Michigan is one of forty states that have to date joined in a $40
million settlement agreement with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
(“MetLife”) over allegations that MetLife asymmetrically used the
Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (“DMF”), avoiding
the discovery of names of its deceased life insurance policyholders.
After reading this, I went back another generation, and found an additional 16 accounts from my great-grandparents. Based on marriage dates and death dates, it looks like the policies were taken out after World War II, in the time period leading up to the Korean War (definitely between 1946 and 1952). My family lost a lot of people before and during WWII (1939-1945), and based on an educated guess, my great-grandparents (World War I veterans who lost spouses and children during World War II) decided to take out life insurance policies on the entire family during the buildup to the Korean War (1950-1953). It boggles my mind to think that after all this time, there is unsettled business dating back that far.
Doing some quick math, MetLife appears to be paying out 10% of the total value of the original policies in the settlement.
From a 2012 Investment News article, “MetLife to pay $500M to settle death benefit probe”:
Chiang said California’s share of the settlement will probably be
about $40 million, with an average value of $1,200 on more than 30,000
policies. The accord goes into effect once 20 states have signed on,
according to the statement.
A copy of the 21 page settlement agrement (dated April 19, 2012) is available from the State of Missouri. It is actually pretty easy reading.
Some quotes from the settlement:
the Departments of Illinois and Florida, in each of their respective
capacities, have, beginning on September 22, 2009, have undertaken a
joint Market Conduct Examination of the Company’s use of the Social
Security Death Master File (hereafter “DMF”) regarding its settlement
practices, procedures and policy administration relating to claims,
including the Company’s efforts to identify the owners and
Beneficiaries of proceeds (the “Multi-State Examination"), which was
subsequently joined by the Departments of California, Pennsylvania,
New Hampshire and North Dakota;
Without admitting any liability whatsoever, the Company agrees to pay
the Signatory States the sum of $40,000,000 (the “Payment”) for the
examination, compliance and monitoring costs incurred by the Signatory
States associated with the Multi-State Examination. The Lead States
shall be responsible for allocating the Payment among the Signatory
States. To be eligible to participate in the Payment allocation, a
Signatory State must sign the Agreement by June 29, 2012.
The settlement also describes the method that was used to match policies to individuals, which is not guaranteed to be perfect (however, it did match some of my family members on partial names).
These accounts wouldn’t have shown up in the search prior to 2012 (I’m certain the last time I searched was 2010), and last year the State of Michigan launched a new version of the unclaimed property search site, which several other states are using as well, so it is possible these accounts weren’t even searchable until late last year. I think this recent article from WLNS might was what prompted my colleague to send the message out.
The site states:
What assistance do I need to file a claim?
Unclaimed Property (UP) encourages owners to contact us directly to
search for funds; there is no fee charged by the Department for this
service. You may be contacted by a locator/heir finder to assist in
your search, however, these third-party services will charge a fee.
From the article describing the re-launched web site (October 2, 2018):
In addition to an enhanced claims process, the new Michigan Unclaimed
Property website provides holders of unclaimed property with the
ability to file reports and make payments to the state Treasury
My original question also included a question about the claim process, but clearly that should be the subject of another question.