What is Life Insurance?

Updated: May 17


Life Insurance
Life Insurance Basics

While most of us do not like to think of the subject of our own death, the fact of the matter is that death is a part of life and in order to protect our families we need to give some thought to the subject of life insurance. The more you understand about life insurance the better you can prepare not only for your final expenses and protect your family. First, understand there are different types of life insurance. The type that is best for you will depend on a variety of factors including your current age and health condition. The two major types of life insurance policies that you need to concern yourself with are term life insurance and permanent life insurance. Term life insurance provides coverage for a specified period of time. This type of coverage will usually be less expensive than permanent life insurance. Policy periods are usually divided up into easy periods such as one, ten or twenty years. In the event you die within that time period, the death benefit will be paid to your beneficiaries. On the other hand, if you should reach the end of the time period and you are still alive your protection will end unless you elect to renew the policy. The option of building up cash value is not available with this type of insurance policy. Individuals who only need temporary life insurance and those who need a large amount of coverage but who can’t afford to spend a lot benefit from this type of policy the most. Permanent life insurance is designed to provide coverage for the duration of your life, although in some cases, the policy may be limited up until a specific age. When you reach that age, the cash value of the policy will be paid to you. Because you are building a cash value with permanent life insurance you can also withdraw from the policy in order to pay for important expenses such as education or home improvement costs. Another major advantage to permanent life insurance is that it allows you to build up cash value. This generally only applies while the policy is in force; however. Permanent life insurance works well for individuals who are interested in long term insurance and who like the idea of building up cash value with their policy they can use to meet future needs. It is important to recognize this type of insurance is more expensive than term insurance in the beginning. It should also be noted that if you take out a loan against your policy, your death benefit will be reduced.


With life insurance, the insured is transferring the risk of death on to the insurer. It is not always the case that the insured is insuring their own life. Therefore there are three parties in a life insurance contract, the insurer, the insured person, and the owner of the policy. The other vitally important party is the beneficiary; this is the person who receives the insurance money if the insured’s death does occur. One or more of these parties could be the same person, for example, if I insure my own life and make my spouse the beneficiary, then I am the insured and the owner. Likewise, if my wife insures my life and makes herself the beneficiary, then she is the owner and the beneficiary. An important concept in this regard is insurable interest. You must have what is known as an insurable interest in the life of the person you are insuring. Believe it or not there was a practice in the nineteenth century whereby people would take out speculative insurance policies on the life of another. For example, if I knew you were going on a dangerous voyage, I might take out a life insurance policy on you in the hope that you wouldn’t make it and I would get a big payout. These days you cannot insure anybody’s life. You must show that you have an interest in that person being alive. You are presumed always to have an interest in the life of your spouse and guardians, if you are a minor, but all other relationships will have to prove the insurable interest. If employers have a very highly valued employee, or sports teams have a star player, or a famous actor contracts to make a film, their employers will be able to insure their lives. Most life insurance policies will have a suicide clause stating that if the insured commits suicide, usually within a period of two years, the policy will not pay out. There is also a contest period. This will also be approximately two years and if the insured dies within this period, the insurance company has greater rights to investigate the death before deciding whether or not to pay out. The value of the insurance policy will be subject to the principle of insurable interest also. For example, if your spouse provides you with $10,000 per year in support, you probably will not be able to take a $50 million insurance policy on their life. The premium will be calculated based on the amount to be paid out and the assessed risk of the insured’s death.

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