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How to buy life insurance for your spouse

Once you check off the two major requirements, you can purchase coverage for your husband or wife.

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Life insurance offers a financial safety net for your loved ones, which is why many spouses shop for policies together. As a married couple, you have to make a few key decisions before buying coverage.

Can I take out a life insurance policy on my spouse?

Yes, you can buy life insurance on your spouse on two conditions:

  1. They consent to it. Life insurance is a legal contract, so your spouse would need to sign off on the policy before it goes into effect.
  2. You can demonstrate insurable interest. In plain English, this means you’ll need to prove that you’d be financially burdened if your spouse died.

How to choose the right life insurance policy

Once you’ve worked out how much coverage you need, move on to these decisions:

  • Choose between a term or permanent policy. Term life insurance lasts for a set number of years and pays out a guaranteed death benefit, while permanent policies offer lifetime protection and builds cash value over time.
  • If you go with a term policy, settle on a length. A good way to do this is to look at the length of your longest debt or financial obligation. For example, if you have a 30-year mortgage, you might look at a 30-year policy. And if you’re young parents, you might buy a 20-year policy to carry your kids through college.
  • Pick an insurer that meets your needs. Take the time to compare policy features and riders.

How to purchase life insurance with your spouse

When you’re shopping for life insurance with your spouse, there are two paths you can go down. You can buy two separate policies, or a single joint policy that covers both of you.

Taking out individual policies

“Buying in bulk” is the most common approach. While it won’t lower your premiums, taking out two policies allows you to customize the coverage to meet each spouse’s needs. For example, if you’re the breadwinner, you might want to purchase more coverage so that your spouse can maintain their lifestyle if you die prematurely. Likewise, one spouse may need riders that the other doesn’t, or want a policy that lasts longer.

By buying two policies at once, you’ll probably be able to schedule a joint medical exam at home, too.

Taking out a joint policy

Joint life insurance is typically cheaper than taking out a separate policy on each spouse. There are two types of joint policies to choose from:

  • A first-to-die joint policy pays out when the first policyholder dies. If the surviving spouse still needs life insurance, they can apply for a new policy. While this policy isn’t too popular, it’s one way to make sure the remaining spouse has replacement income to pay off a mortgage or other debts.
  • A survivorship policy (or a second-to-die policy) only pays out once both policyholders have passed away. It’s common among couples with considerable assets who want to ensure their heirs have the cash to pay inheritance or estate taxes.

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What should my spouse and I consider when taking out a life insurance policy?

Firstly, figure out how much life insurance you need. To do this, consider your current income, financial obligations and lifestyle. When you’re crunching the numbers, think about:

  • Dependents. Is there anyone who relies on your income? If you have children or ageing parents, you might want to purchase a policy that will take care of them when you’re gone.
  • Debt. Do you have a mortgage, student loans or credit cards? Your debt doesn’t die with you, so your policy should cover those outstanding balances. Creditors will pursue unpaid debt, and it’s a major reason why many families are forced to file bankruptcy.
  • Savings. If you have assets, investments, a healthy savings account or a 401(k), you may not need as much life insurance.
  • Living expenses. How much of your income goes towards food, clothing, insurance, education and childcare? Factor those costs in to your coverage.
  • End-of-life expenses. Many policyholders want to pay for their own funeral or burial costs, so their families don’t need to worry about it.
  • Estate protection. To protect your family’s wealth and assets, you could buy a policy that’s big enough to cover estate taxes.
  • Legacy. If you want to leave an inheritance or give your family a financial cushion, you might consider purchasing a larger policy.

    Other life insurance options for spouses

    If your spouse is ineligible or has been turned down for a traditional life insurance policy, you could try the following options:

    1. Buy group insurance for your spouse through your employer. Ask your employer if you can purchase a policy for your spouse. If the offer’s on the table, can sign up during the annual open enrollment period. Just know that group life insurance isn’t portable, and you’ll likely only be able to buy a small amount of coverage — either a percentage of your own group life policy, or a set dollar amount.
    2. Add a spousal rider to your own term life policy. A handful of providers will allow you to enhance your term policy with a spousal rider. You might need to answer questions about your spouse’s health and lifestyle, so this may not be an option if they have a serious health condition.
    3. Go with a no-exam policy. Most providers offer guaranteed issue or simplified issue life insurance policies, which don’t require a medical exam. While you’ll skip the blood and urine tests, you can expect to pay a higher premium.

    Do stay-at-home spouses still need life insurance?

    In most cases, it’s a good idea. While a stay-at-home spouse may not contribute income, they do perform unpaid labor, like childcare, cleaning, cooking, laundry and taking the kids to school.

    If your stay-at-home spouse died, how would you maintain your job and take over all of those responsibilities? A life insurance policy could kick in to cover the costs of hiring help or subsidize your income if you decide to reduce your days at work.

    A non-working spouse can typically qualify for up to 100% of the coverage of their working spouse.

    Bottom line

    You can buy life insurance for your spouse — as long as they agree to it, and you can prove that you’d suffer financially if they died. More often than not, taking out separate policies is the most cost-effective way to buy coverage. But a joint, group or no-exam policy might suit your situation better.

    To get the best possible rates, compare life insurance companies.

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