FAQs Life Insurance

According to research from the American Council of Life Insurers, only about 15 percent of people under the age of 18 have a life insurance policy. For those that have one the average amount is typically small and often just enough to provide the benefit of covering final expenses.1American Council of Life Insurers Research Study, 2013

The fact is, there are many other benefits to purchasing life insurance for you child or grandchild, including locking in their coverage for the future.

A child rider is purchased as part of a parent or guardian’s term life insurance policy. Children under the age of 17 are eligible for rider coverage that will protect them until the age of 25.Aug 29, 2012

Child life insurance is a form of permanent life insurance that insures the life of a minor. It is usually purchased to protect a family against the sudden and unexpected costs of a child’s funeral or burial and to secure inexpensive and guaranteedinsurance for the lifetime of the child.

    • You certainly can, and some people do. This approach has advantages and disadvantages. When you pre-pay for your funeral, you get to personalize it to your taste. You can grill different funeral directors until you find one you love. You can pick out the perfect casket and the choicest plot in the cemetery. Another advantage of pre-paying is that it will most likely prompt you to talk your choices over with loved ones, leaving them more confident that they know your wishes.
    • Different states have different guidelines governing funeral pre-payment. The government wants to protect people from writing checks to unscrupulous folks who will take the money and run, or charge your family extra on top of what you pre-pay. Before you pre-pay, check your state guidelines for how the money will be held until your death. Make sure you know what you’re paying for. Most importantly, are you locking in the rate for your funeral, or is there a chance your family would face an up-charge when the time comes? If you do any pre-planning or pre-payment, it’s important to tell a loved one what you did and where you keep the documentation.
    • The disadvantage of pre-payment is that it’s less flexible than burial insurance. Will you or your family be able to get a refund if your funeral plans change? Will you lose the money you pre-paid if you move to a different area? What happens if the funeral parlor goes out of business? With final expense insurance, your surviving relatives will receive a payout they can spend anywhere. If you go with final expense insurance instead of pre-payment, you have less control, but your family has more flexibility. The choice is yours.
    • If you want to leave a clear indication of your wishes without necessarily locking in the funeral home, you could always combine burial insurance with a document stating your preferences. Kept wherever you keep your will (you have a will, right?), this document would cover issues like burial vs. cremation, open vs. closed casket. etc.
    • Find out about Social Security Death Benefits

Preneed life insurance is an insurance policy whose benefits cover the cost of the predetermined expenses of a funeral, cremation or burial. The expenses typically include standard funeral home services, funeral merchandise, church services and even burial services and merchandise.

That depends on your age, and there’s no delicate way to say this. The older you are, the higher your premiums will be. That’s because the insurance company takes on more risk when insuring older folks, given the fact that they’re statistically closer to death. If you buy final expense insurance when you’re 45, you’ll pay less each month than if you wait until you’re 75.

    • That depends. If you already have term or whole life insurance, your loved ones can use your existing policy to pay final expenses. If you have term life insurance and you outlive the policy term, you may want to consider final expense insurance at that point.
    • Alternatively, if your family will have plenty of assets to work with when you die, you could use what’s called “self-insurance.” “Self-insurance” is one of those terms that sounds more complicated than it is. To self-insure is just to use your own money rather than use a life insurance payout.

Could your family self-insure for your final expenses? It’s a good idea to figure around $10,000 for the funeral expenses, but will you also want a catered party after the memorial service? A trip to a faraway land to scatter your ashes? Will you leave big bills behind? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, consider springing for final expense insurance. And it’s probably best not to count on the lump sum death payment from Social Security to pick up the slack. It’s only $255.

    • Final expense insurance is designed to cover the bills that your loved ones will face after your death – think medical bills and funeral expenses. Final expense insurance is also known as burial insurance, since even bare-bones funerals cost thousands of dollars.
    • A final expense life insurance policy isn’t the same as what’s popularly known as “insuring your life.” With term and permanent life insurance, the value of your policy is proportionate to your earning power now and for the rest of your life. With funeral insurance, the value of your policy is proportionate to the expense of your desired funeral. While other forms of life insurance can top a million dollars, it’s rare for final expense insurance policies to get above $20,000.

A permanent life policy provides lifelong insurance protection. The policy pays a death benefit if you die tomorrow or if you live to be a hundred. There is also a savings element that will grow on a tax-deferred basis and may become substantial over time. Because of the savings element, premiums are generally higher for permanent than for term insurance. However, the premium in a permanent policy remains the same, while term can go up substantially every time you renew it.

There are a number of different types of permanent insurance policies, such as whole (ordinary) life, universal life, variable life, and variable/universal life. In a permanent policy, the cash value is different from its face value amount. The face amount is the money that will be paid at death. Cash value is the amount of money available to you. There are a number of ways that you can use this cash savings. For instance, you can take a loan against it or you can surrender the policy before you die to collect the accumulated savings.

There are unique features to a permanent policy such as:

  • You can lock in premiums when you purchase the policy. By purchasing a permanent policy, the premium will not increase as you age or if your health status changes.
  • The policy will accumulate cash savings.
  • Depending on the policy, you may be able to withdraw some of the money. You also may have these options:
    • Use the cash value to pay premiums. If unexpected expenses occur, you can stop or reduce your premiums. The cash value in the policy can be used toward the premium payment to continue your current insurance protection – providing there is enough money accumulated.
    • Borrow from the insurance company using the cash value in your life insurance as collateral. Like all loans, you will ultimately need to repay the insurer with interest. Otherwise, the policy may lapse or your beneficiaries will receive a reduced death benefit. However, unlike loans from most financial institutions, the loan is not dependent on credit checks or other restrictions.
  • Whole Life/Permanent
  • Whole life or permanent insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die—even if you live to 100! There are three major types of whole life or permanent life insurance—traditional whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, and there are variations within each type.
  • Whole or ordinary life
  • This is the most common type of permanent insurance policy. It offers a death benefit along with a savings account. If you pick this type of life insurance policy, you are agreeing to pay a certain amount in premiums on a regular basis for a specific death benefit. The savings element would grow based on dividends the company pays to you.
  • Universal or adjustable life
  • This type of policy offers you more flexibility than whole life insurance. You may be able to increase the death benefit, if you pass a medical examination. The savings vehicle (called a cash value account) generally earns a money market rate of interest. After money has accumulated in your account, you will also have the option of altering your premium payments – providing there is enough money in your account to cover the costs. This can be a useful feature if your economic situation has suddenly changed. However, you would need to keep in mind that if you stop or reduce your premiums and the saving accumulation gets used up, the policy might lapse and your life insurance coverage will end. You should check with your agent before deciding not to make premium payments for extended periods because you might not have enough cash value to pay the monthly charges to prevent a policy lapse.
  • Variable life
  • This policy combines death protection with a savings account that you can invest in stocks, bonds and money market mutual funds. The value of your policy may grow more quickly, but you also have more risk. If your investments do not perform well, your cash value and death benefit may decrease. Some policies, however, guarantee that your death benefit will not fall below a minimum level.
  • Variable-universal life
  • If you purchase this type of policy, you get the features of variable and universal life policies. You have the investment risks and rewards characteristic of variable life insurance, coupled with the ability to adjust your premiums and death benefit that is characteristic of universal life insurance.

 

  • Guaranteed Acceptance Whole Life Insurance

Guaranteed Acceptance Whole Life Insurance. This simple, affordable life insuranceis designed to cover expenses like medical bills, credit card debt, and funeral costs, and can help protect your loved ones from future financial burdens.

In most types of term insurance, including homeowners and auto insurance, if you haven’t had a claim under the policy by the time it expires, you get no refund of the premium. Your premium bought the protection that you had but didn’t need, and you’ve received fair value. Some term life insurance consumers have been unhappy at this outcome, so some insurers have created term life with a “return of premium” feature. The premiums for the insurance with this feature are often significantly higher than for policies without it, and they generally require that you keep the policy in force to its term or else you forfeit the return of premium benefit. Some policies will return the base premium but not the extra premium (for the return benefit), and others will return both.

Term insurance comes in two basic varieties—level term and decreasing term. These days, almost everyone buys level term insurance. The terms “level” and “decreasing” refer to the death benefit amount during the term of the policy. A level term policy pays the same benefit amount if death occurs at any point during the term.

Common types of level term are:

  • yearly- (or annually-) renewable term
  • 5-year renewable term
  • 10-year term
  • 15-year term
  • 20-year term
  • 25-year term
  • 30-year term
  • term to a specified age (usually 65)
  • Yearly renewable term, once popular, is no longer a top seller. The most popular type is now 20-year term. Most companies will not sell term insurance to an applicant for a term that ends past his or her 80th birthday.
  • If a policy is “renewable,” that means it continues in force for an additional term or terms, up to a specified age, even if the health of the insured (or other factors) would cause him or her to be rejected if he or she applied for a new life insurance policy.
  • Generally, the premium for the policy is based on the insured person’s age and health at the policy’s start, and the premium remains the same (level) for the length of the term. So, premiums for 5-year renewable term can be level for 5 years, then to a new rate reflecting the new age of the insured, and so on every five years. Some longer term policies will guarantee that the premium will not increase during the term; others don’t make that guarantee, enabling the insurance company to raise the rate during the policy’s term.
  • Some term policies are convertible. This means that the policy’s owner has the right to change it into a permanent type of life insurance without additional evidence of insurability.

Term Insurance is the simplest form of life insurance. It pays only if death occurs during the term of the policy, which is usually from one to 30 years. Most term policies have no other benefit provisions.

There are two basic types of term life insurance policies—level term and decreasing term.

  • Level term means that the death benefit stays the same throughout the duration of the policy.
  • Decreasing term means that the death benefit drops, usually in one-year increments, over the course of the policy’s term.
  • In 2003, virtually all (97 percent) of the term life insurance bought was level term.

For more on the different types of term life insurance, click here.

There are two major types of life insurance—term and whole life. Whole life is sometimes called permanent life insurance, and it encompasses several subcategories, including traditional whole life, universal life, variable life and variable universal life. In 2003, about 6.4 million individual life insurance policies bought were term and about 7.1 million were whole life.

Life insurance products for groups are different from life insurance sold to individuals. The information below focuses on life insurance sold to individuals.

The example leaves out some potentially significant unmet financial needs, such as

  • The surviving spouse will have no income from Social Security from age 53 until 60 unless the deceased buys additional life insurance to cover this period. It could be assumed that the surviving spouse will obtain a job at or before this time, but she could also become disabled or otherwise unable to work. If life insurance were bought for this period, the additional amount of insurance needed would be about $335,000.
  • Some people like to plan to use life insurance to pay off the home mortgage at the primary income earner’s death, so that the survivors are less likely to face the threat of losing their home. If life insurance were bought for this goal, the additional amount of insurance needed is the amount of the unpaid balance on the mortgage.
  • Some people like to provide money to pay to send their children to college out of their life insurance. We may assume that each child will attend a public college for four years and will need $15,000 per year. However, college costs have been rising faster than inflation for many decades, and this trend is unlikely to slow down. If life insurance were bought for this goal, the additional amount of insurance needed would be about $200,000.
  • In the example, no money is planned for the surviving spouse’s retirement, except for what the spouse would be entitled to receive from Social Security (about $1,200 per month). It could be assumed that the surviving spouse will obtain a job and will either participate in an employer’s retirement plan or save with an IRA, but she could also become disabled or otherwise unable to work. If life insurance were bought to provide the equivalent of $4000 per month starting at age 60 until 65 and $3,000 per month from 65 on (because at 65 Medicare will make carrying private health insurance unnecessary), the additional amount of insurance needed would be about $465,000.

Suppose a surviving spouse didn’t work and had two children, ages 4 and 1, in her care. Suppose her deceased husband earned $36,000 at death and was covered by Social Security but had no other death benefits or life insurance. Assume the surviving spouse is 36.

Assume that the deceased spent $6,000 from income on his own living expenses and the cost of working. Assume, for simplicity, that the deceased performed services for the family (such as property maintenance, income tax and other financial management, and occasional child care) for which the survivors will need to pay $6,000 per year. Assume that the survivors will have to buy health insurance to replace the coverage the deceased had at work, and that this will cost $12,000 per year.

Taken together, the survivors will need to replace the equivalent of $48,000 of income, adjusted each year for an assumed 4 percent inflation.

Thanks to Social Security, the survivors would need life insurance to replace only about $1,700 per month of lost wage income (adjusted for inflation) for 14 years until the older child reaches 18; Social Security would provide the rest. The survivors would need life insurance to replace about $2,100 per month (adjusted for inflation) for three more years when the non-working surviving spouse has only one child under 18 in her care.

The life insurance amount needed today to provide the $1,700 and $2,100 monthly amounts is roughly $360,000. Adding $15,000 for funeral and other final expenses brings the minimum life insurance needed for the example to $375,000.

Many pundits recommend buying life insurance equal to a multiple of your salary. For example, one financial advice columnist recommends buying insurance equal to 20 times your salary before taxes. She chose 20 because, if the benefit is invested in bonds that pay 5 percent interest, it would produce an amount equal to your salary at death, so the survivors could live off the interest and wouldn’t have to “invade” the principal.

However, this simplistic formula implicitly assumes no inflation and assumes that one could assemble a bond portfolio that, after expenses, would provide a 5 percent interest stream every year. But assuming inflation is 3 percent per year, the purchasing power of a gross income of $50,000 would drop to about $38,300 in the 10th year. To avoid this income drop-off, the survivors would have to “invade” the principal each year. And if they did, they would run out of money in the 16th year.

The “multiple of salary” approach also ignores other sources of income, such as those mentioned previously.

Most families have some sources of post-death income besides life insurance. The most common source is Social Security survivors’ benefits.

Social Security survivors’ benefits can be substantial. For example, for a 35-year-old person who was earning a $36,000 salary at death, maximum Social Security survivors’ monthly income benefits for a spouse and two children under age 18 could be about $2,400 per month, and this amount would increase each year to match inflation. (It drops slightly when the survivors are a spouse and one child under 18, and stops completely when there are no children under 18. Also, the surviving spouse’s benefit would be reduced if he or she earns income over a certain limit.)

Many also have life insurance through an employer plan, and some from another affiliation, such as through an association they belong to or a credit card. If you have a vested pension benefit, it might have a death component. Although these sources might provide a lot of income, they rarely provide enough. And it probably isn’t wise to count on death benefits that are connected with a particular job, since you might die after switching to a different job, or while you are unemployed.

In most cases, if you have no dependents and have enough money to pay your final expenses, you don’t need any life insurance.

If you want to create an inheritance or make a charitable contribution, buy enough life insurance to achieve those goals.

If you have dependents, buy enough life insurance so that, when combined with other sources of income, it will replace the income you now generate for them, plus enough to offset any additional expenses they will incur to replace services you provide (for a simple example, if you do your own taxes, the survivors might have to hire a professional tax preparer). Also, your family might need extra money to make some changes after you die. For example, they may want to relocate, or your spouse may need to go back to school to be in a better position to help support the family.

You should also plan to replace “hidden income” that would be lost at death. Hidden income is income that you receive through your employment but that isn’t part of your gross wages. It includes things like your employer’s subsidy of your health insurance premium, the matching contribution to your 401(k) plan, and many other “perks,” large and small. This is an often-overlooked insurance need: the cost of replacing just your health insurance and retirement contributions could be the equivalent of $2,000 per month or more.

Of course, you should also plan for expenses that arise at death. These include the funeral costs, taxes and administrative costs associated with “winding up” an estate and passing property to heirs. At a minimum, plan for $15,000.

Many financial experts consider life insurance to be the cornerstone of sound financial planning. It can be an important tool in the following situations:

  1. Replace income for dependents

If people depend on your income, life insurance can replace that income for them if you die. The most commonly recognized case of this is parents with young children. However, it can also apply to couples in which the survivor would be financially stricken by the income lost through the death of a partner, and to dependent adults, such as parents, siblings or adult children who continue to rely on you financially. Insurance to replace your income can be especially useful if the government- or employer-sponsored benefits of your surviving spouse or domestic partner will be reduced after your death.

  1. Pay final expenses

Life insurance can pay your funeral and burial costs, probate and other estate administration costs, debts and medical expenses not covered by health insurance.

  1. Create an inheritance for your heirs

Even if you have no other assets to pass to your heirs, you can create an inheritance by buying a life insurance policy and naming them as beneficiaries.

  1. Pay federal “death” taxes and state “death” taxes

Life insurance benefits can pay estate taxes so that your heirs will not have to liquidate other assets or take a smaller inheritance. Changes in the federal “death” tax rules between now and January 1, 2011 will likely lessen the impact of this tax on some people, but some states are offsetting those federal decreases with increases in their state-level “death” taxes.

  1. Make significant charitable contributions

By making a charity the beneficiary of your life insurance, you can make a much larger contribution than if you donated the cash equivalent of the policy’s premiums.

  1. Create a source of savings

Some types of life insurance create a cash value that, if not paid out as a death benefit, can be borrowed or withdrawn on the owner’s request. Since most people make paying their life insurance policy premiums a high priority, buying a cash-value type policy can create a kind of “forced” savings plan. Furthermore, the interest credited is tax deferred (and tax exempt if the money is paid as a death claim).

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