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Insurance industry promises speedy payments

By Christy Oglesby

(CNN) -- Collection of life insurance by beneficiaries of people who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks should not be held up because bodies cannot be recovered and death certificates are delayed, according to the insurance industry.

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"There is a standard for us -- and that is a death certificate is required to collect benefits," said Jack Dolan, a spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers, whose 426 members hold 80 percent of the legal reserve life insurance in the United States.

"We are going to make sure that for a family that is in need there will be no bureaucratic hassle in getting the benefits they are entitled to."

New York state insurance officials have contacted their counterparts in Oklahoma to determine how that state accommodated families who lost relatives in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Dolan said.

"We are looking to them. Oklahoma did an excellent job getting people paid promptly," Dolan said.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has said that some families may never receive remains.

Because positive identification would likely delay delivery of a death certificate, insurance companies may use alternative, nonstandard documents as credible evidence, Dolan said.

Alternative documents would include corporate staff lists, affidavits from beneficiaries or employers, and passenger lists, Dolan said.

Such changes are unusual only in the number of claims that would be involved, Dolan said. Insurance companies make similar accommodations for beneficiaries when relatives die in plane crashes or similar accidents in which bodies are not recovered.

Although questions have arisen about "act of war" and "terrorist attack" exclusions in life insurance policies that might preclude people from collecting benefits, Dolan said such clauses are irrelevant.

Few people would have such exclusions in their policies, he said. Insurance companies "stopped putting them in their in the 1970s with the cessation of the Vietnam War," Dolan said.

"War exclusions were put in policies during periods of war -- primarily World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. They got included for those who were draft age and seeking life insurance policies."

Should people have "act of war" exclusions in their policies, it would not apply to the attacks in New York and Washington and the crash in Pennsylvania. Acts of war are defined as "hostilities between sovereign nations," Dolan said, and last Tuesday's attacks were not of that nature.

Individual insurance companies are walking families through the process of obtaining alternate credible proof of death, Dolan said.

"The insurance companies are dedicated and committed to processing each and every policy," Dolan said, "and we are going to be doing it compassionately and swiftly."

• American Council of Life Insurers

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