If you have the policy and death certificate when you file a claim, it may take as few as five business days to receive a check.

Q: How long does it usually take after a person dies for a life insurance company to pay out the death benefit? What happens if the beneficiary doesn’t know about the policy?

A: The more information you have about the life insurance policy, the faster you can receive the payout. “Having the policy and death certificate when filing a claim expedites the process,” says Jack Dolan, spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers, a trade organization of life insurance companies. In that case, it can take as few as five business days after filing the claim to receive the payout.

If the beneficiaries don’t know about the policy, the insurer may track them down, but not always. Deaths are usually reported on the Social Security Death Master File, and some states require insurers to compare their files against those records and contact the beneficiaries when a death is reported (some insurers do this voluntarily).

If you suspect that the deceased had a life insurance policy but don’t know the insurer, look through their financial records for canceled checks or other clues, and contact any insurers or agents mentioned. You can also submit a request with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ policy locator service, which asks many life insurance companies to check their records for the policies. Or check with the American Council of Life Insurers for more tips on locating a policy.