TomorrowMakers

My husband’s sudden demise made me sit up and take notice of my finances, including the entire procedure of filing his death claim.

How I managed my husband's death claim on my own

They never train you to become a competent widow. They can prepare you to be a “good mother”, they can train you to be a “good wife”, they can even try to train you to be a “good bahu”. But nobody ever trains you to become a “good widow”.

Life, the ultimate educator, does that teaching, as I found out the bitter way. My husband had passed away suddenly after what the doctors called a severe cardiac arrest, and the tranquility that was my life till then was shattered in a blink. I became a widow – and I was not trained for that.

Picking up the Pieces

After the initial shock, it was the long fight back to normalcy – emotionally, and financially. I did not hold a job when he died – I had stopped working when my first child was due, always meaning to get back when he was a bit older, but never managed to do that. And when our second child arrived, I decided to bury the idea for good. Plus, honestly, my husband’s paycheque had been more than adequate, so I did not have to worry about finances.

But now, aged 35, I was face to face with a new reality: one in which I had to raise two children with no immediate source of a regular income. I needed to find a job, but I had lost too many years in the professional circuit to merit a salary that my children and I were used to. We had our savings of course, but that would not last long.

Graph

Source - https://thewire.in/15616/71-million-single-women-39-rise-over-a-decade/

It was around the time when I was in a state of utter despair that a friend asked, “Didn’t your husband have life insurance? Everybody has one...”

Frankly, I had no clue. I was too engrossed in raising the children and running the household to worry about things like that; my husband had taken care of finances and investments, and I was relieved he did not burden me with that side of family life. Now I wished he had, and that I too had taken a bit more interest in finances. It was one of the first lessons that my husband’s sudden death drove home.

I began going through the papers and records he kept; I knew they had to be somewhere in the house. That was the second lesson I learnt: always be aware of which documents are kept and where; it may be the house deed, the pollution certificate for the car, a will, a medical report or investment papers, you never know when a forgotten piece of paper is required.

My friend was particularly insistent that in case my husband had taken out a life insurance policy in his name and I was the beneficiary; I should lose no time in taking the relevant document to the insurance company to make the claim. “As a claimant, you should make the insurance claim immediately after your husband’s death,” she said. “It speeds up the clearance process, and you need the money now.”

Making the Claim

Fortunately, my husband was a meticulous man, and I found the insurance papers among a bundle of documents in a box-file he maintained. He had invested in a whole life insurance policy of Rs 80 lakh. If my husband had paid regular premiums until death, the corpus would be paid out to the family, i.e. me – the stated beneficiary. I checked the bank passbook and found that he had paid the latest premium.

GRAPH

*Amount in Crores

Source - https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/finance/how-insurance-firms-are-dealing-with-fraud-claims/articleshow/59448276.cms

I did not know what else needed to be done, so I visited the insurance firm and was directed to the claims department for guidance. The staff were most helpful, guiding me though the formal application, called the “Claimant’s Statement”, where I had to give details of the deceased (my husband) and the claimant (i.e. me).

They staff also explained to me the required list of documents that I had to furnish, such as the original death certificate and the policy bond, and assured me that if the papers were in order, the claim would be settled through a cheque within seven days of them receiving the papers. Moreover, they promised to notify me in writing if they were unable to deal with any part of my claim; as it turned out, this was not necessary.  

After this, I went about getting the supplementary documents which I was asked for, and are generally required for a death claim; this is how this part of the exercise panned out:

Death certificate: 
This took a bit of running around, as the rules required that the death certificate be issued by the local municipal authorities. I visited the local civic councillor, and he helped us in this regard, but the department concerned did ask for a statement from the nursing home we took my husband to that fateful night, as well as the funeral certificate. In the end, we got the death certificate.

Original policy documents:
This was not a problem, as I held these in my hands.

ID proof of the beneficiary:
For this, I used my Aadhar card.

Age proof of insured:
Here too, I used the Aadhar card – my husband’s.

Discharge form (executed and witnessed):
This is a form that the insurance firm gave me to fill up. I was required to provide information regarding the policy payout amount, such as sum assured and details of any outstanding loan. Here, I needed the insurance firm’s help as I did not know who my husband’s insurance agent was. Here’s what a typical discharge form looks like:

Medical certificate (as proof of the cause of death):
This was issued by the nursing home where we took my husband.

Police FIR:
This is required in case of unnatural death. It was not relevant to us as there was no foul play involved.

Post-mortem report (in case of unnatural death):
This too was not required in our case.

Hospital records/certificate:
This is asked for (if the deceased died due to an illness).

Cremation certificate:
This was a critical piece of paper, as it was proof that I did not dispose of my husband’s body illegally. The cremation houses, which are state-owned, require the doctor’s certificate before they allow a deceased individual to be cremated, for a fee, for which they provide a receipt. The cremation certificate is issued after this.

Employer certificate:
This was needed as my husband’s death was deemed a case of “early death”, i.e. he died within three years of making the policy (deaths after three years are deemed “non-early). The company he worked for filled out the Employer’s Certificate on Form No. 3787 (Revised).  

Death Claim

Insurance Ombudsman

If a bona fide claimant feels he or she is getting a raw deal by the insurance firm, one can approach the Insurance Ombudsman, appointed by the Government of India. At present, there are 12 centres across the country, redressing complaints free of charge. The following types of complaints fall within the purview of the Ombdusman: 

a) any partial or total repudiation of claims by an insurer;
b) any dispute in regard to premiums paid if payable in terms of the policy;
c) any dispute on the legal construction of the policies in so far as such disputes relate to claims;
d) delay in settlement of claims;
e) non-issue of any insurance document to customers after receipt of premium.


Last Word

The claims process is not as grueling as people usually make it out to be. If your papers are in order, (fortunately, like mine were) and if you can provide reasonable proof that the death of the policyholder did not involve foul play, the payout of the sum assured will not take more than a week.

However, please note, it pays got be on top of financial matters. Just because you are a woman and/ or a homemaker – often a mother to boot – it does not mean investment matters do not concern you. They do.       

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