Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Help Me Howard: Collecting Life Insurance
If you have family, you may have life insurance to help pay their bills after you are gone. But does the insurance company have to pay after you are gone? It's why one grieving woman called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- In her 73 years, Jo Ann Sparks expected to see a lot of things, but never a funeral.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "You expect your kids to bury you, not for you to bury them."
Jo Ann is talking about her daughter Melissa, who wasn't big on having her picture taken and wasn't big on talking.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "Melissa was the type of person that didn't talk unless you questioned her."
In November 2010, Melissa did tell her mother and four children something: She had cancer.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "All I know is she just started complaining about hurting."
Melissa battled ovarian cancer, but when it was clear she was going to lose, Jo Ann's quiet daughter opened up.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "The last couple of months, she talked to me more than, sad to say, more than she ever did. She was telling me what she wanted, what she didn't want."
Melissa wanted her mother to have custody of her three youngest children, and she said that two months before she told them she had cancer, she had bought a life insurance policy.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "$5,000."
Patrick Fraser: "Do you need that money?"
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "You bet."
Melissa passed away. Jo Ann had her cremated like her daughter wanted, keeping some of the ashes around her neck.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "It's a locket with the ashes on the inside. Always near my heart."
Jo Ann then went to collect the $5,000 from Melissa's life insurance policy to help raise the children.
But no luck.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "Every time I call them, they tell me I need something else, and every time they say they need something else, I send it."
Part of the problem is that Melissa did not have medical insurance and did not regularly visit a doctor till she got cancer, but Jo Ann says that shouldn't stop her children from getting her life insurance.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "It shouldn't take them five months to find out whether they're gonna pay or not pay. They either pay or they don't pay. They can tell me something."
Well Howard, Jo Ann wants to know her legal rights about life insurance money.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "If you buy life insurance, it has to be paid to the beneficiary within a reasonable amount of time after the insurance company receives all the relevant information. However, if the documents show that health information was left out, then the insurance company has a right to refuse to pay."
I then called the life insurance company.
They told me they needed to track down Melissa's medical records before they could proceed.
Finally, they got them from a hospital where the uninsured Melissa had gone for emergency care.
Jo Ann then got this letter that said Melissa was admitted to the hospital on the same day she applied for life insurance. That visit led to the determination that she had cervical cancer. Therefore, they were not paying the insurance policy.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "If the insurance company is correct and Melissa went to the emergency room the same day she bought the life insurance, it's doubtful she knew she had cancer. But not reporting that hospital visit could legally allow the insurance company to refuse to pay the policy."
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "The other day, I got a letter with a check in it for $59.07."
The insurance company returned the $59 Melissa had paid in insurance premiums.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "It's not acceptable."
Jo Ann is not happy. She says her daughter didn't tell them she had cancer till two months after she got the insurance.
Maybe she didn't want to worry them or, Jo Ann says, maybe someone is making a mistake.
Jo Ann Sparks, Waiting for Daughter's Insurance: "This is ridiculous, because to me, this is not acceptable. I want to see the medical records they got."
Patrick Fraser: "Good for Jo Ann. In fact, never accept what a company says till you see the proof. Jo Ann has now requested a copy of Melissa's medical records to make sure she visited the hospital the same day she bought the life insurance policy. And it's not just insurance companies: Don't accept what any company tells you, till you see the proof."
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CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com