While life insurance isn’t the most uplifting topic, it could turn out to be one of the most important decisions you make in your lifetime.
The first step to take when assessing if you should take out cover is to consider the financial stress that your family would suffer if you were suddenly no longer around to provide a steady income. Whether it be the birth of your first child or the purchase of your first home with your spouse, the moment that others become financially dependent on you is the moment you should consider taking out life cover.
Significant life events that may lead to taking out life insurance:
Term insurance. Term insurance is probably the most common form of life insurance cover. Term insurance is life insurance that lasts for a fixed period or term. If you pass away within the policy term, then your insurance company will pay a lump sum to your dependants. However, if you don’t pass away during the policy, then it lapses and you will no longer be covered, nor will you receive any form of payment.
Whole-of-life cover. Whole-of-life cover offers insurance protection for your entire life. This means your insurance provider will pay out in the event of your death whenever it occurs. This type of life insurance will have much higher premiums than term insurance because it means that the insurance provider is increasingly more likely, if not definitely, going to have to pay out in the event of your death. Although whole-of-life insurance is not as popular as term life insurance, many find it useful to combat inheritance tax.
What type of term life insurance policy can I get?
There are a number of different life insurance policies out there, so you will need to decide which one is the right one for you. Maybe you’ve just got yourself a hefty mortgage and you’re looking for life insurance while you pay it back, or you’ve just had your first child and you’re looking for life insurance while they are financially dependent on you. Well, you’re in luck. There are a whole host of different term life insurance policies to suit your individual needs.
Level term. This is a standard term policy. Your policy will stay the same throughout its term, meaning that it won’t change with inflation and your premiums will stay the same. This type of policy tends to be a popular choice for those with a mortgage, and many people will take out life insurance to coincide with the term of the mortgage, which is usually 25 years. It means that in the tragic event of your death, your loved ones won’t struggle to meet mortgage repayments or be forced to move.
Increasing term. This type of policy (also known as an index-linked policy) combats the expected rise in living costs. This means your policy increases slightly every year in line with the retail price index (RPI) or a fixed amount. While this is a good way of protecting your lump sum against increased living costs, it also means that your premiums will increase too.
Decreasing term. With this policy, your cover will gradually decrease over time, as will your premiums. This policy is a popular choice if you only want life insurance to cover a mortgage or debt that gradually reduces over time.
Convertible term. This means that you are able to convert your policy from a fixed-term policy into a whole-of-life policy if you wish. Be aware that this would also mean an increase in premiums.
Renewable term. This policy gives you the option of renewing your policy without the need for a health review.
Joint life. This is a shared policy between spouses or partners. It could potentially save you some money, given that you would only pay one premium between the two of you. However, it is important to understand that when the first policyholder dies, the lump sum will be paid out and the other policyholder will no longer be insured.
Family income benefit. This is a type of decreasing term insurance that offers an income rather than a lump sum. If the policyholder dies within a fixed period, then the dependants would receive an annual tax-free income payment for the remainder of the policy term. For example, if you had this policy for 25 years and passed away after 20 years, your dependants would be paid an annual income for 5 years.
Which whole-of-life insurance policy can I get?
There are different types of whole-of-life insurance policies, including:
Flexible whole of life. With this policy, part of your premium will be put into an investment fund. This means that the amount of money you receive will depend partly on how well your investment has performed. Your cover is usually reviewed every ten years, during which you can choose whether to increase or reduce your premiums and cover.
Non-profit whole of life. With non-profit whole-of-life insurance, you’ll only be required to pay fixed premiums and there is no investment side to the policy. You’re lump-sum payment is also fixed.
For-profit whole of life. A for-profit whole-of-life insurance policy includes an investment element meaning that the pay out on death is a fixed fee plus any profits/bonuses from investments. It is important to consider market inconsistencies when looking into this type of insurance, and the impact these could potentially have on your lump-sum payment.
Unit-linked whole of life. With this policy, the regular premiums you pay are used to purchase units in investment funds. The policy’s value is dependent on the performance of these funds and grows in value as the number of units grows. It can go up or down, and there is no guarantee attached.
Low cost whole of life. This is similar to a for-profit policy. Your premiums are invested and in the event of your death, your dependants will receive a guaranteed payout or the investment value, whichever is highest.
Over 50s/funeral plans. This policy typically covers funeral costs and is relatively simple to obtain. It is worth noting that the maximum pay out for this type of policy is a lot smaller than other policies.
Endowment policies. This type of policy is available on a for-profit or unit-linked basis, with premiums either being paid regularly or as a one-off lump sum. Endowment policies are a type of savings or investment and are available for a fixed period of time, usually between 10 and 25 years. If the policyholder dies before the end of this fixed period, the lump sum will be paid.
MUST READ: Review your policy regularly
Once you have cover in place, you should review your policy regularly to ensure you are not overinsured or underinsured. Events that can affect your policy include the following:
Marriage or divorce
Buying a new home
Children moving out or becoming financially independent
Changes in health
Most advisers recommend that you review your life insurance policy at least once every 12 months. There may be a better-priced and/or more suitable option available.
What features or optional extensions should I look out for?
Before you purchase your life insurance, it’s worth considering what additional features you’re able to add to your policy. Take a look at some of these additional benefits:
Critical Illness cover. If you are diagnosed with a critical illness and unable to work, then this benefit would allow you to claim your lump-sum payment. However, most insurance providers will usually only pay out once, so if you receive a payout for critical illness, your dependants would not receive another lump sum after your death.
Terminal illness benefit. If you are diagnosed as terminally ill and are expected to pass away within 12 months, then this benefit entitles you to make a claim for your life insurance in advance. This is usually included within most life insurance policies.
Premium waiver. In circumstances where you become seriously ill or disabled and are unable to work, this benefit allows your insurance provider to relinquish your obligation to pay regular premiums.
Increasing cover. This enables you to increase your cover without any further medical evidence. You may want to increase your cover due to the birth of a child or if you’re moving to a larger property.
How can I save on my policy?
There are a few simple tricks that may end up saving you a great deal of money on your life insurance policy. Check them out below.
Determine an appropriate level of cover. Consider your current financial obligations and how long you are likely to require cover to determine an adequate amount of insurance. You may find that a cheaper policy with less features is still sufficient for your situation.
Review existing cover. You may already have some cover via your employer, or it may be included in other insurance products. Assess what is already in place and see if you need to upgrade.
Live a healthier lifestyle.Pre-existing medical conditions, smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity can all drive up your premiums; smokers usually pay double compared to non-smokers. Live a healthy lifestyle and be rewarded with lower premiums.
Speak with an insurance adviser. An adviser can use their knowledge of the market to help you find competitively priced cover.
Combine policies. Some insurers offer multi-policy discounts if you take out cover for your spouse or child, or if you take out other types of personal insurance with their company.
Insurance providers have rules and guidelines surrounding when they will and won’t pay out. Make sure you read through your specific life insurance policy documents and understand the insurers rules and regulations surrounding claims and payments. As standard, most policies won’t pay out in the event of death caused by the following:
Intoxication by drugs or alcohol
War or terrorism
Gross negligence or reckless behaviour
Suicide or self-inflicted injures
Traps to avoid
Make sure you avoid these common pitfalls when looking for life insurance cover:
Ignoring future costs. Think about your current bills and expenses and take into account what these will look like in the future. For example, if you have young children, the cost of school and university is likely to be significant in future years, so make sure you allow for this when assessing what you can afford.
Forgetting to cover the stay-at-home parent. Life insurance for a stay-at-home parent is also important. Consider points such as how much your family would have to spend on a cleaner and child care if the parent became ill, was injured or died.
Putting off taking out cover. Your premiums will only increase with age so think about taking out cover early to secure a competitive rate.
Going with the cheapest policy. The cheapest policy will usually offer a reduced level of cover. Make sure the premium matches the quality of the cover provided.
Skim over the terms and conditions. Take time to read the product disclosure statement carefully so you have a clear understanding of exactly what you will be covered for and the conditions for a benefit payment.
Frequently asked questions
Purchasing your policy
One rule of thumb is to get cover for 10-12 times your annual income, and another may be to get enough to at least cover your existing debts. but there are a number of factors to keep in mind when deciding the level of cover that’s right for you. If you’ve just taken out a mortgage or have young children, you may need to get a larger life insurance policy than someone who has paid off their house.
The insurance payout will go to the people you listed as dependants on your policy, which is generally your family or loved ones.
Most life insurance premiums are paid on a monthly basis until the end of the insurance term, or until you decide you no longer want cover.
Yes, you are free to have more than one life insurance policies at any one time, and this is often a strategy used by people wanting to stagger their cover. However, an insurer will check your current insurance situation when you apply for a new policy, and may refuse to cover you in the event you already have adequate cover.
You will also have to pay the ongoing costs of all your insurance policies, which can be very expensive.
Choosing the right option
This will depend on your specific needs, but the best life insurance is generally one that offers an adequate level of cover for as long as you need it, while still being affordable.
The average life insurance policy costs around £30 per month in the UK, but the cost of your policy will vary based on a wide range of factors. This includes the type of policy, the level of cover, as well as your age, health, occupation and income.
Not necessarily, although whole-of-life insurance offers cover for your entire life, where term insurance only covers you for a certain period of time. It is often more expensive than term insurance, but offers certainty in terms of cover and can help negate inheritance tax.
Adjusting your policy
This will depend on your provider and the type of policy you have, but you may be able to change the size or length of your life insurance policy. You can also change the beneficiaries listed in your policy.
Yes, you are generally free to cancel your life insurance policy at any time. However, once you cancel, you will no longer be covered, regardless of how long you had cover.
Making a claim
In the event of your death, your family will need to contact your life insurance provider to begin the claim process. They will generally need to complete a claim form, and once it has been approved, will then receive the insurance payout.
Some providers will pay out a life insurance policy early if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. However, your family would then not receive any payout when you die.
If your family member has died and you are unsure if they had life insurance, there are a number of ways you can find out. You can check their bank statements for an ongoing insurance payments, or check any documents they left behind. Some companies offer services that help identify unclaimed insurance policies, though you may need to pay a fee.
Esther Wolffowitz was a publisher at finder.com specialising in insurance. Esther holds an MSc in Media and Communication Governance from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Read more on this topic
Terminal illness benefitRead our guide to find out how terminal illness benefit on a life insurance policy could help your loved ones and offer some financial security.
Level term life insuranceRead our guide to find out how level term life insurance could offer your loved ones financial security after you're gone.
Joint life insuranceRead our guide to help you decide if you and your loved ones could benefit from joint life insurance.
Family income benefitWant to protect your family with a regular income after you've gone? Read our guide to find out how family income benefit works and how much it might cost.
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