Losing a loved one to suicide is devastating, and it may result in their life insurance company denying the claim. Insurers have provisions in place for self-inflicted deaths, and the major one has to do with timing.
How life insurance handles suicide
Life insurance policies typically pay out in the event of suicide — but there’s one major exception.
If the policyholder commits suicide within the first two years of buying coverage, the insurer won’t pay the death benefit. Some states, like North Dakota, have a one-year exclusionary window. This is known as the “suicide clause.”
Outside of the two-year period, insurers treat suicide in the same way as they do deaths from illness, accidents and other insured causes.
How to get help if you or a loved one are thinking about suicide
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know you’re not alone. Reach out to these resources for help 24/7:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 800-273-8255 to connect to a counselor who speaks English or Spanish.
- Lifeline Chat. Get professional and emotional support via online chat.
- Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to 741741 to talk to a crisis counselor.
What is the suicide clause?
The suicide clause applies to the first one or two years of a policy. It’s a provision that states the insurer won’t pay out the death benefit if the policyholder died as a result of self-harm or a self-inflicted injury.
While this clause can sound insensitive, it’s designed to prevent people who are intending to commit suicide from purchasing policies.
The burden is on the insurer to prove the death was deliberate, and not accidental. This raises complicated issues — especially when it comes to drug overdoses and drunken-driving deaths.
In the case of suicide, insurers refund any premiums paid to the policy’s beneficiary.
Does the suicide clause apply to physician-assisted suicide?
Though the circumstances are a little different, the suicide clause still applies to physician-assisted suicide. This means it’s covered — but not during the first one to two years of the policy.
Sometimes known as “death with dignity,” physician-assisted suicide refers to terminally ill people electing to end their lives rather than suffer additional treatment. A handful of states allow it — including California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — but most require a terminal diagnosis for eligibility. However, some life insurance policies have an accelerated death benefit rider which can provide early cash payouts if you become terminally ill.
How does the suicide clause differ from the contestability period?
While the suicide clause and contestability period require a similar time frame, they’re treated separately. In simplest terms, the suicide clause deals with self-harm, while the contestability period relates to fraud.
The contestability period goes into effect the day you purchase your policy and lasts two years. If you die during this time, your insurer can delay payment while they investigate the claim. And if they discover that you lied or withheld information on your application, they have the right to deny or reduce the death benefit — even if the cause of death had nothing to do with the details you failed to mention.
If you lie on your application, your loved ones may never see the money you left them.
How does a history of depression affect a claim after suicide?
As part of the underwriting process, your insurer might assess your physical and mental health.
If you have a history of depression, your insurer can ask questions like:
- When were you diagnosed with depression?
- Is your depression mild, moderate or severe?
- Are you receiving treatment in the form of medication, therapy or both?
- Have you ever been hospitalized due to depression?
While these questions may be difficult to answer, it’s essential to be honest and transparent in your application. This not only helps you qualify for competitive rates, but also strengthens your case when your beneficiaries file a claim. If you die and the insurer discovers that you failed to disclose or adequately treat your depression, your payout can be denied or reduced.
The relationship between depression and suicide is complicated. Insurers review claims case by case. But typically, if a policyholder with a history of depression dies by suicide when the suicide clause is in place, the policy won’t pay out.
How do life insurance companies verify that a policyholder committed suicide?
As part of the claims process, beneficiaries have to submit a certified copy of the death certificate. Life insurance companies look at this closely, as it specifies whether the policyholder committed suicide — or if they died in an accident that could have been a suicide attempt, such as a drug overdose.
In that case, the payout might be delayed while the insurance company investigates further.
Compare life insurance companies
As painful as it is, it’s important to understand how life insurance companies treat suicide. It’s covered under most policies, but the timing matters. If it occurs during the first one to years of purchasing a policy, the insurer can deny paying out the death benefit.