Life insurance is a contract between an insured (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.
It is possible for life insurance policy payouts to be made in order to help supplement retirement benefits; however, it should be carefully considered throughout the design and funding of the policy itself.
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 term life, whole life, universal life and variable life policies.
Term Life insurance is the original form of life insurance and can be contrasted to permanent life insurance such as whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, which guarantee coverage at fixed premiums for the lifetime of the covered individual. Term insurance is not generally used for estate planning needs or charitable giving strategies but is used for pure income replacement needs for an individual. Term insurance functions in a manner similar to most other types of insurance in that it satisfies claims against what is insured if the premiums are up to date and the contract has not expired, and does not provide for a return of premium dollars if no claims are filed. As an example, auto insurance will satisfy claims against the insured in the event of an accident and a homeowner policy will satisfy claims against the home if it is damaged or destroyed by, for example, a fire. Whether or not these events will occur is uncertain. If the policyholder discontinues coverage because he has sold the insured car or home, the insurance company will not refund the premium. This is purely risk protection.