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The Right Way to Deliver a Death Benefit

Conduct an interview, prepare a plan and present options and recommendations to the beneficiary of the benefit.

By Mark E. Hundley

When an insured dies, life suddenly changes for the beneficiary. The context for living changes from “What if?” to “What is?” Real-time dollar value, economic contexts and financial demands automatically take center stage. As his advisor, you become a potential point person to whom the he may turn for guidance, advice and direction.

As you start the process of delivering the death benefit to the beneficiary, remember that he has specific needs that must be addressed. He needs to know the facts of his financial situation and how assets can address his situation, and he needs to explore the options available to him.

In response to these needs, you must perform specific tasks, such as conducting a fact-finding interview, preparing a personal planning analysis, and presenting him with options and recommendations.

Here are some steps you need to take as you deliver the benefit to him:

Initial notification. Once you know that the insured has died, make an appointment with the beneficiary. This meeting paves the way for crucial conversations. Here’s what should happen in the meeting:

  • Express sympathy for the personal loss and present a resource, such as a CD, brochure or a book, which provides the beneficiary with information, guidance and support related to the journey ahead as he learns to live in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one. This shows that you know that he is aware that the process ahead is difficult.

  • Begin the official claims process according to standard company protocol.

  • Set up a follow-up meeting to explain and deliver the benefit according to company procedure (access fund checkbook, check, access account, etc.)

  • Let the beneficiary know that at the next meeting, you would like to spend time answering questions and exploring issues of concern. Also, suggest that the beneficiary invite any trusted friend, family member or advisor to the meeting for support and input.

Second meeting. A few weeks after the initial meeting, when the claim has been processed and the money has been made available, meet the beneficiary and any other trusted advisors he has invited. By the time the second meeting is scheduled, the beneficiary should have gotten through the funeral and related activities. This is the time when you suggest that a needs analysis be conducted to evaluate the current life situation.

Then, conduct a fact-finding interview to ask questions about the beneficiary’s current situation. After the fact-finder, set up another meeting to share options with the beneficiary.

Third meeting. Give the beneficiary a personal planning analysis that details various options and recommendations. This is an opportunity for you to explore ways to address the needs of the beneficiary and his family as they relate to investing the benefit. Ideally at this meeting, the beneficiary should be able to make decisions about other products or services that surface as a result of the needs analysis.

Fourth meeting. You and the beneficiary should discuss the new products and services and the different ways they can address the future needs and plans of the beneficiary.

At this stage, the beneficiary is moving in a direction in which activities related to the present and a new plan are starting to dominate his life. Continue to stay in touch through policy reviews, telephone calls, etc.

The most meaningful connection you will ever make with others is at the point of their pain and never at the point of their victory. So be prepared and be proactive.

Mark Hundley, author of Awaken to Good Mourning—a personal guide through the journey of grief, is cofounder of Plano, Texas-based Journey of Hope Grief Support Center, a nonprofit agency that provides free group grief support to people as they learn to mourn the death or impending death of a loved one. Visit

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