Common questions about life insurance:
- Why buy life insurance?
- How much life insurance do I need?
- Are there different types of life insurance?
- What is a beneficiary?
- How often should I review my policy?
What is life insurance?
Typically, life insurance is chosen based on the needs and goals of the owner. Term life insurance generally provides protection for a set period of time, while permanent insurance, such as whole and universal life, provides lifetime coverage. It’s important to note that death benefits from all types of life insurance are generally income tax-free.
Life-based contracts tend to fall into two major categories:
Protection policies – designed to provide a benefit in the event of specified event, typically a lump sum payment. A common form of this design is term insurance.
Investment policies – where the main objective is to facilitate the growth of capital by regular or single premiums. Common forms (in the US) are whole life, universal life, and variable life policies.
Why buy life insurance?
Many financial experts consider life insurance to be the cornerstone of sound financial planning. It is generally a cost-effective way to provide for your loved ones after you are gone. It can be an important tool in the following ways:
Income replacement:For most people, their key economic asset is their ability to earn a living. If you have dependents, then you need to consider what would happen to them if they no longer have your income to rely on. Proceeds from a life insurance policy can help supplement retirement income. This can be especially useful if the benefits of your surviving spouse or domestic partner will be reduced after your death.
It’s very important to have enough liability insurance, because if you are involved in a serious accident, you may be sued for a large sum of money. Definitely consider buying more than the state-required minimum to protect assets such as your home and savings.
Pay outstanding debts and long-term obligations: Consider life insurance so that your loved ones have the money to offset burial costs, credit card debts and medical expenses not covered by health insurance. In addition, life insurance can be used to pay off the mortgage, supplement retirement savings and help pay college tuition.
Estate planning: The proceeds of a life insurance policy can be structured to pay estate taxes so that your heirs will not have to liquidate other assets.
Charitable contributions: If you have a favorite charity, you can designate some of the proceeds from your life insurance to go to this organization.
How much life insurance do I need?
To decide how much life insurance to buy, you need to first figure out what your goals are in purchasing this coverage. Ask yourself the following:
- Do I want to spare my loved ones funeral costs and outstanding debts?
- Am I concerned that my spouse or domestic partner will not be able to continue to pay off the mortgage if I die suddenly?
- Do I have dependents who count on my income?
- Am I concerned about college savings for my children or retirement savings for my spouse if I die suddenly?
While all situations are different, here are two scenarios to help you think through the questions you should pose to your insurance professional:
What if I have dependents?
If you have children, a spouse who does not work outside the home or aging parents who you financially support, you have dependents. Alternatively, you may simply have a spouse or domestic partner who would be unable to pay the mortgage without your financial contribution. In either case, your loved ones will no longer have your income to help them pay the bills and maintain their lifestyle after you are gone. You will have to purchase enough insurance to provide for their future, while considering how much of your budget should be devoted to life insurance.
Some insurance experts suggest that you purchase five to eight times your current income. While this may be a good way to begin estimating your family’s needs, you will also need to figure how much your dependents will need to pay for some or all the following:
- Cost of owning a home (mortgage, maintenance, insurance, taxes and utilities)
- College savings
- Food, clothing, utilities
- Child care
- Nursing home or elder care
- Retirement savings
- Funeral expenses and estate taxes
Your family may also need extra money to make some changes after you die. 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.
What if I do not have dependents?
If you are young and plan to have a family in the future, you may also want to consider purchasing life insurance now so that you can lock in a good rate.
Just because you don’t have dependents, does not mean you don’t have responsibilities. For instance, you may be concerned with not being an economic burden to others if you die unexpectedly. You may also want to leave some money behind to close family, friends or a special charity as a remembrance. In this case, you should purchase enough coverage to pay funeral and burial expenses, outstanding debts and tax liabilities, so that the bulk of your estate goes to your family, friends or charities.
Your insurance needs will vary greatly according to your financial assets and liabilities, income potential and level of expenses.
Are there different types of life insurance?
While there a many different types of life insurance policies, they generally fall into two categories term and permanent:
Term Insurance is the simplest form of life insurance. It provides financial protection for a specific time, usually from one to 30 years. These policies are relatively inexpensive and are well suited for goals, such as insurance protection during the child-raising years or while paying off a mortgage. They provide a death benefit, but do not offer cash savings.
Purchasing term insurance is like renting a home. It is a short-term solution. Monthly costs are usually lower, but you will not be building equity. Just as many people rent (while saving to buy a home), individuals who need insurance protection now, but have limited resources, may purchase term coverage and then switch to permanent protection. Others may view term insurance as a cost-effective way to protect their family and still have money to put into other investments.
Permanent insurance (such as universal life, variable universal life and whole life) provides long-term financial protection. These policies include both a death benefit and, in some cases, cash savings. Because of the savings element, premiums tend to be higher. This type of insurance is good for long-range financial goals.
Purchasing permanent insurance is like buying a home instead of renting. You are taking care of long-term housing needs with a long-term solution. Your monthly costs may be higher than if you rent, but your payments will build equity over time. If you purchase permanent insurance, your premiums will pay a death benefit and may also build cash value that can be accessed in the future.
What is a beneficiary?
A beneficiary is the person or financial institution, (a trust fund, for instance) you name in a life insurance policy to receive the proceeds. In addition to naming a specific beneficiary, you should name a second or “contingent” beneficiary, in case you outlive the first beneficiary.
If there is no living beneficiary, the proceeds will go to your estate. If there are probate proceedings this could possible delay your loved ones receiving the money. The proceeds may also be subject to estate taxes. Picking a beneficiary, and keeping that choice up-to-date, are important parts of purchasing life insurance. The birth or adoption of a child, marriage or divorce can affect your initial choice of who will receive the death benefit when you die. Review your beneficiary designation as new situations arise to make sure your choice is still appropriate.
Pay special attention to the wording of your beneficiary designations to ensure that the right person receives the proceeds of your estate. If you write “wife/husband of the insured” without using a specific name, an ex-spouse could receive the proceeds. On the other hand, if you have named specific children, any later-born or adopted children will not receive the proceeds unless the beneficiary designation is changed.
How often should I review my policy?
You should review all of your insurance needs at least once a year. If you have a major life change, you should contact your insurance agent or company representative. The change in your life may have a significant impact on your insurance needs. Life changes may include:
- Marriage or divorce
- A child or grandchild who is born or adopted
- Significant changes in your health or that of your spouse/domestic partner
- Taking on the financial responsibility of an aging parent
- Purchasing a new home
- Refinancing your home
- Coming into an inheritance