Life insurance is a contract between an insurance policy holder and an insurer, where the insurer promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money (the "benefits") upon the death of the insured person. Depending on the contract, other events such as terminal illness or critical illness may also trigger payment. The policy holder typically pays a premium, either regularly or as a lump sum. Other expenses (such as funeral expenses) are also sometimes included in the benefits.
The advantage for the policy owner is "peace of mind", in knowing that the death of the insured person will not result in financial hardship for loved ones and lenders.
Life policies are legal contracts and the terms of the contract describe the limitations of the insured events. Specific exclusions are often written into the contract to limit the liability of the insurer; common examples are claims relating to suicide, fraud, war, riot and civil commotion.
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.
1.1 Parties to contract
1.2 Contract terms
1.3 Costs, insurability and underwriting
1.4 Death proceeds
1.5 Insurance vs assurance
2.1 Term insurance
2.2 Permanent life insurance
2.2.1 Whole life coverage
2.2.2 Universal life coverage
2.2.5 Accidental death
3 Related products
3.1 Group life insurance
3.2 Senior and preneed products
4 Investment policies
5 Unit Linked Insurance Plans
5.1 With-profits policies
6 Investment bonds
8.3 United States
8.4 United Kingdom
8.4.1 Pension term assurance
9.1 Market trends
10 Stranger originated
12 See also
13.1 Specific references
14 External links
Parties to contract
Chart of a life insurance
There is a difference between the insured and the policy owner, although the owner and the insured are often the same person. For example, if Joe buys a policy on his own life, he is both the owner and the insured. But if Jane, his wife, buys a policy on Joe's life, she is the owner and he is the insured. The policy owner is the guarantor and he will be the person to pay for the policy. The insured is a participant in the contract, but not necessarily a party to it. Also, most companies allow the payer and owner to be different, e. g. a grandparent paying premiums for a policy on a child, owned by a grandchild.
The beneficiary receives policy proceeds upon the insured person's death. The owner designates the beneficiary, but the beneficiary is not a party to the policy. The owner can change the beneficiary unless the policy has an irrevocable beneficiary designation. If a policy has an irrevocable beneficiary, any beneficiary changes, policy assignments, or cash value borrowing would require the agreement of the original beneficiary.
In cases where the policy owner is not the insured (also referred to as the celui qui vit or CQV), insurance companies have sought to limit policy purchases to those with an insurable interest in the CQV. For life insurance policies, close family members and business partners will usually be found to have an insurable interest. The insurable interest requirement usually demonstrates that the purchaser will actually suffer some kind of loss if the CQV dies. Such a requirement prevents people from benefiting from the purchase of purely speculative policies on people they expect to die. With no insurable interest requirement, the risk that a purchaser would murder the CQV for insurance proceeds would be great. In at least one case, an insurance company which sold a policy to a purchaser with no insurable interest (who later murdered the CQV for the proceeds), was found liable in court for contributing to the wrongful death of the victim (Liberty National Life v. Weldon, 267 Ala.171 (1957)).
Special exclusions may apply, such as suicide clauses, whereby the policy becomes null and void if the insured commits suicide within a specified time (usually two years after the purchase date; some states provide a statutory one-year suicide clause). Any misrepresentations by the insured on the application may also be grounds for nullification. Most US states specify a maximum contestability period, often no more than two years. Only if the insured dies within this period will the insurer have a legal right to contest the claim on the basis of misrepresentation and request additional information before deciding whether to pay or deny the claim.
The face amount of the policy is the initial amount that the policy will pay at the death of the insured or when the policy matures, although the actual death benefit can provide for greater or lesser than the face amount. The policy matures when the insured dies or reaches a specified age (such as 100 years old).
Costs, insurability and underwriting
The insurer (the life insurance company) calculates the policy prices with intent to fund claims to be paid and administrative costs, and to make a profit. The cost of insurance is determined using mortality tables calculated by actuaries. Actuaries are professionals who employ actuarial science, which is based on mathematics (primarily probability and statistics). Mortality tables are statistically based tables showing expected annual mortality rates. It is possible to derive life expectancy estimates from these mortality assumptions. Such estimates can be important in taxation regulation.
The three main variables in a mortality table are commonly age, gender, and use of tobacco, but more recently in the US, preferred class-specific tables have been introduced. The mortality tables provide a baseline for the cost of insurance, but in practice these mortality tables are used in conjunction with the health and family history of the individual applying for a policy to determine premiums and insurability. Mortality tables currently in use by life insurance companies in the United States are individually modified by each company using pooled industry experience studies as a starting point. In the 1980s and 1990s, the SOA 1975–80 Basic Select & Ultimate tables were the typical reference points, while the 2001 VBT and 2001 CSO tables were published more recently. The newer tables include separate mortality tables for smokers and non-smokers, and the CSO tables include separate tables for preferred classes.
Recent US mortality tables predict that roughly 0.35 in 1,000 non-smoking males aged 25 will die during the first year of coverage after underwriting. Mortality approximately doubles for every extra ten years of age, so the mortality rate in the first year for underwritten non-smoking men is about 2.5 in 1,000 people at age 65. Compare this with the US population male mortality rates of 1.3 per 1,000 at age 25 and 19.3 at age 65 (without regard to health or smoking status).
The mortality of underwritten persons rises much more quickly than the general population. At the end of 10 years the mortality of that 25 year-old, non-smoking male is 0.66/1000/year. Consequently, in a group of one thousand 25-year-old males with a $100,000 policy, all of average health, a life insurance company would have to collect approximately $50 a year from each participant to cover the relatively few expected claims. (0.35 to 0.66 expected deaths in each year x $100,000 payout per death = $35 per policy). Other costs, such as administrative and sales expenses, also need to be considered when setting the premiums. A 10 year policy for a 25-year-old non-smoking male with preferred medical history may get offers as low as $90 per year for a $100,000 policy in the competitive US life insurance market.
Most of the revenue received by insurance companies consists of premiums paid by policy holders, with some additional money being made through the investment of some of the cash raised from premiums. Rates charged for life insurance increase with the insurer's age because, statistically, people are more likely to die as they get older. The insurance company will investigate the health of an applicant for a policy to assess the likelihood of incurring a claim, in the same way that a bank would investigate an applicant for a loan to assess the likelihood of a default. Group Insurance policies are an exception to this. This investigation and resulting evaluation of the risk is termed underwriting. Health and lifestyle questions are asked, with certain responses or revelations possibly meriting further investigation. Life insurance companies in the United States support the Medical Information Bureau (MIB), which is a clearing house of information on persons who have applied for life insurance with participating companies in the last seven years. As part of the application, the insurer often requires the applicant's permission to obtain information from their physicians.