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Life Insurance Should Be Included in Your Financial Plan

Filed under Personal Finances. Fact checked on May 24, 2012.

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Life insurance offers important financial planning advantages if it is properly fitted to your needs and offered at a competitive price. Discover the best type and time to buy this invaluable piece of the financial planning puzzle.

Life insurance is among the most useful, and most maligned, of all the purchases that you will ever make. If properly tailored to your needs and purchased at a competitive price, life insurance offers important advantages, including:

  • income replacement for your survivors
  • investment/forced savings for you
  • reduced income and transfer tax liability
  • a ready source of cash at a time when it's likely to be needed most
  • funding of small business buy/sell agreements

If life insurance can offer all of the above advantages, why aren't there long lines of people outside their insurance agents' offices demanding to buy more? Probably because people fear that one or more of following may come true:

  • the policy will be overpriced when compared to similar policies offered by other companies
  • the policy will offer poor investment returns
  • the policy will not enjoy all possible tax advantages
  • the policy will not function as planned to facilitate a buy/sell agreement
  • the policy will be sold by an unethical insurance agent who will try to sell the individual the highest premium policy possible, whether it meets the individual's needs or not

Besides these possible financial disadvantages, key emotional factors may keep people from buying needed life insurance:

  • by their nature, life insurance policies require current outlay for an expected advantage in the future (which may never be seen by the policyholder, only his or her beneficiaries) 
  • many people remain uncomfortable about thinking of their deaths

Differences Between Term or Cash Value Policies

Life insurance policies can be divided into two main categories: term insurance and cash value insurance.

Term Insurance

At its most basic level, term insurance provides a death benefit only. If you die while the policy is in effect, the insurance company pays.You don't die within the term, they don't pay. Such a policy is pure protection only. 

This should not be underestimated if you have younger children or children with special needs, especially if your spouse will not be able to earn enough to provide for them in the event of your death. Many business succession plans include term policies to provide cash should the sole-proprietor, partner or key shareholder die unexpectedly. 

Of course, a term policy has no investment or cash value component to it. Although it's called term insurance because the coverage runs for a specified term, such as a year, most policies may be renewed at the option of the insured for as long as he or she is willing to pay the premiums.

While the some term insurance must be renewed annually, term policies are often written for much longer terms, such as five, 10 or 15 years. Although the cost of term insurance usually rises as the insured ages, level-term policies are also available. These policies keep the premium at the same dollar amount throughout the term, although the premium will often jump more sharply for the next term than would be the case for the year-to-year rise for an annual term policy.

Cash Value Insurance

Cash-value policies provide a death benefit and an investment/savings feature. With nearly unlimited types of cash value policies, you'll want to focus on the important differences between many of the options. 

Cash value insurance is much more expensive than term, particularly at younger ages, but typically provides insurance throughout lifetime at a level premium. A policyholder normally can receive the benefit of these cash values during lifetime in one of two ways: 

  1. by taking a loan against them
  2. by cashing in the policy, in which the policy will no longer be in force but the policyholder will receive the cash surrender value

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Term Policies

The primary advantage of term life insurance is that it requires a low cash outlay due to its pure insurance protection.  

Term policies are usually favored by people who fall within one or more of the following categories:

  • younger, cash-strapped people with relatively large financial responsibilities, such as young marrieds with small children
  • people who are using the insurance policy for a specific business purpose, such as funding a buy-sell agreement or as security on a major asset purchase
  • people whose insurance needs will only last for a definite time period, such as until retirement (when a company pension and or Social Security kick in, for example)
  • people who have no trouble saving money, and who believe that they can invest the savings at a higher return that they would get if they left the money in a cash value policy

The biggest disadvantages with term policies include:

  • premiums rising at the end of each term, sometimes reaching the point of being very hard to afford
  • fewer income tax advantages available for some types of cash value policies

If you do decide to purchase a term policy, make sure it's a guaranteed renewable policy. This means that at the end of the policy term you can renew without taking another medical exam, and without regard to how bad your health may be at the time of renewal.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Cash Value Policies

The main advantage most small business owners find with cash value policies is steady price of the premium as long as the insured keeps the policy. Although some modern cash value policies give the insured the flexibility of, within certain limits, changing the amount of money to be deposited into the cash value side fund, many stick with the traditional cash value policy.

Because of this level-premium feature, cash value policies, which are also known as "permanent insurance policies" have lower lapse rates than do term policies. Once you get used to paying the specified amount each year, you're more likely to keep paying and thus keep the policy in force.

Cash-value policies are usually favored by people who fall within one or more of the following categories:

  • people who believe that their need for life insurance will continue throughout their lives
  • people who have trouble saving money on their own
  • people who can afford the larger cash outlay for a cash value policy
  • people in high income tax brackets who want to take advantage of some of the additional tax sheltering aspects of cash value insurance

The biggest disadvantage of cash value insurance is, you guessed it, its higher cash outlay when compared to term. Also, the investment return on cash value policies has typically been rather low, particularly for the first five to 10 years after purchase. 

In fact, most cash-value insurance policies only make sense if the policy is held for your entire life. Some modern cash value policies give policyholders the right to choose from several mutual-fund-like investment options into which to invest the cash values funds. Although these policies offer the possibility of higher returns within the policy, they require the policyholder to make the decisions about policy investments.

Another fact about cash value policies that should be remembered: most of these policies are written so that the lifetime cash values are applied to partially pay off the death benefit, when it becomes due.

Example

Henry Kashman owns a cash value life insurance policy that will pay $100,000 on his death. The policy now has a cash value of $25,000. If Henry dies tomorrow, his beneficiary will get $100,000, not $125,000.

You can get a cash value policy that will pay your beneficiaries both of these amounts (i.e. in our example, the whole $125,000), only you'll have to pay higher premiums for it. The reason that we mention this point is that our experience has shown that many cash value policyholders do not understand that their beneficiaries only receive the face amount of the policy at death — they blissfully think that they have provided more for their beneficiaries than they really have. If you have any doubt about how one of your cash value policies is set up, ask your agent.

Choosing Between Term or Cash Value Insurance

Like many big questions in business, there's no simple answer to which type of life insurance policy—term or cash value—will be better for you.

If you are just starting your business, and have lots of personal financial responsibilities, term insurance may be the way to go. But if you do this, you must remember that the policy will provide no savings for you in the future. The idea that you should buy term coverage and put the difference between the term cost and the higher cash value policy cost into an outside investment just doesn't work for many people: They buy the cheaper insurance, then do not manage to invest what they have saved over the more expensive cash value policies.

Tip

A sound strategy to follow is to purchase the term insurance and set up an automatic withdraw arrangement under which an amount equal to the "difference" of the cost of a cash-value policy is deposited and invested in an investment you chose, such as mutual funds, etc. You are likely to realize as much, and probably more, savings growth using this strategy that waiting for the cash-value to accumulate decades in the future. Banks, brokerage houses and insurance companies can set up such an arrangement.

If you, on the other hand, are:

  • not in a business start-up situation
  • not strapped for cash
  • heavily burdened with personal financial responsibilities 
  • of the mindset that your life insurance policies should be lifetime companions

you may want cash value insurance.

When you opt for cash value policies, you'll have myriad options to wade through. The traditional whole life/ordinary life policies will give you:

  • a guaranteed premium amount
  • a guaranteed death benefit amount
  • at least a guaranteed minimum build up in the policy cash values. 

Other, more modern cash value policies offer the possibility of greater investment returns, but these returns depend on how well the policy's individual investment fund performs.

Regardless of how well it appears that a life insurance policy performs as an investment, it is highly unlikely that purchasing it will make sense if you have no need for the additional death benefit protection. All life insurance policies—even those that emphasize the growth of cash values over death benefits—must provide for death benefits (for which a portion of your policy premium must go). If you don't need more death benefit protection, you shouldn't have to pay for it! By putting your money in a non-insurance investment, all of the money invested (less any applicable fees) would go to purchase your investment fund.

Comparing Types of Life Insurance Policies

Life insurance policies are complicated. They contain terms and provisions that are legalistic mumbo-jumbo to most of us. Added to this, there seem to be countless types and varieties of insurance policies.

Our summary comparison of the most common forms of term, cash value and specialized and hybrid policies tries to hit the high points of the most common types of in use. If something sounds unfamiliar, remember that various insurance companies—primarily for marketing reasons—create their own names for specific variations of the general insurance types noted here. However, you should be able to find a description of what type of policy it is buried in the first few pages of the policy.

The most common policies compared include:

Term policies

Annual renewable term Level term
Decreasing term Increasing term
Mortgage insurance

Cash value policies

Whole (ordinary) life Graded premium life
Limited pay life Interest sensitive life
Endowment policies Single premium life
Universal life Variable life
Universal variable life "Vanishing premium"
MEC (modified endowment contract)

Selected specialized/hybrid policies

Joint first-to-die policies Second-to-die policies
Adjustable life policies Family income policies
Family maintenance policies Family (family protection) policies

Term Life Policy Types Compared

Annual Renewable Term
Description Premiums Cash Value Advantages Disadvantages Uses
One year pure protection; evidence of insurability may be required each year Premiums increase each year None Coverage at lowest cost; savings over cash value policy may be invested in a "side fund" Rates rise sharply with age; may become too costly; no forced savings element Large need, low income; need is for short term
Level Term
Pure protection for term of years (3, 5, 10, 20 years, etc.) Level throughout term; policy may have guaranteed insurability for protection beyond end of term None Low cost, level premium for term; savings over cash value policy may be invested in a "side fund" May lose coverage at end of term if not guaranteed renewable; no forced savings element Large need for medium to long term; individuals with discipline to invest savings over cash value in a "side fund"
Decreasing Term
Decreasing protection over the term Normally level throughout term None Amount of protection decreases over time May be more expensive than other forms of term insurance When owner's need for insurance decreases over time
Increasing Term
Increasing protection over the term (often as rider to another policy) Usually will go up to reflect increased insurance coverage None Amount of protection increases over time Coverage (and resulting premium increases) may increase beyond the need As counter to erosion of policy proceeds by inflation; assured purchase of more insurance without evidence of insurability
Mortgage Insurance
A specialized form of Decreasing Term; protection declines over term of mortgage Normally level throughout term None Amount of protection automatically decreases as need decreases Expensive way to buy coverage; conventional term policy may be better choice When owner wants to pay off mortgage at death but wants coverage limited to amount of unpaid mortgage

 Comparing Types of Cash-Value Life Insurance

Whole (Ordinary) Life
Description Premiums Cash Value Advantages Disadvantages Uses
Guaranteed at-death proceeds; guaranteed lifetime benefits Level, payable usually to age 95 or 100 Guaranteed build-up — participating policies may have build-up beyond amounts guaranteed Forced savings element; fixed premiums; low-rate loans; guaranteed cash values; income tax advantages Rates higher than term — insured may not be able to afford adequate coverage; investment return usually marginal Lifetime need for insurance; client prefers fixed, guaranteed investment return
Graded Premium Life
Guaranteed at-death proceeds; guaranteed lifetime benefits Starts low, increases over time — ultimate rate will be higher than comparable Ordinary Life policy Guaranteed build-up (less in early years than Ordinary Life); participating policies may have build-up beyond amounts guaranteed Forced savings element; low initial premiums (compared with Ordinary Life); guaranteed cash values; income tax advantages Rates higher than term — cash values build up slower than Ordinary Life; investment return usually marginal younger buyers with high needs, low current income (but prospect for future income increases)
Limited Pay Life
Guaranteed at-death proceeds; guaranteed lifetime benefits Level, but for a period less than the endowment date (such as 20-Pay Life and Paid-Up-At-65); premiums will be higher than comparable Ordinary Life policy Guaranteed build-up (faster than Ordinary Life); participating policies may have build-up beyond amounts guaranteed Greater forced savings element; guaranteed cash values; income tax advantages Higher rates than Ordinary Life; investment return usually marginal Buyers having a need for a fixed amount on a fixed, though distant, date
Interest Sensitive Whole Life
Like whole life, except that interest paid on the cash value is pegged to a specified financial measure (such as stock index or specified financial instrument) Level premiums Build-up influenced by interest credited on policy's cash value; participating policies may have additional build-up Forced savings; fixed premiums; income tax advantages; some protection against inflation Rates higher than Ordinary Life; investment return usually marginal (but better in times of high interest rates) Conservative buyers wanting guarantees of Ordinary Life, but with some inflation protection
Endowment Policies
Guaranteed at-death proceeds; guaranteed lifetime benefits equal to face amount at fixed date (such as age 65) Level premiums, payable only to the policy endowment date (date when cash value = policy face amount); premiums among the highest of fixed premium policies Guaranteed build-up (much faster than Ordinary Life); participating policies may have build-up beyond amounts guaranteed Greater forced savings (cash value = death benefits when policy endows); guaranteed cash values; income tax advantages Higher rates than other fixed premium cash value policies (thus, usually not suitable for young buyers with large pure protection need); investment return usually marginal Buyers having a need for a fixed amount on a fixed date
Single Premium Life
Guaranteed at-death proceeds; guaranteed lifetime benefits One-time payment of all premiums due for life of the policy Builds up faster than any other type of policy since policy is fully funded with payment of the sole premium Most highly investment-weighted policy; earnings left in policy until insurer's death escape income tax Classified as a MEC: lifetime withdrawals and loans subject to income tax and may be subject to 10% penalty tax; one-time payment of premiums may be cost prohibitive Buyers needing insurance coverage but who want policy weighted to investments (only feasible if lifetime withdrawal will not be made); a preferred way for high-income owners to transfer income estate tax free
Universal Life
Term and cash value (investment) portion split into two distinct accounts; investment is in insurer's general account Within limits, buyer controls premium amount; depending on premium paid, can raise or lower face amount and amount going into investment account Amount depends on owner's choice of premium amounts and on the performance of the investment account Flexibility in premium payment, face amount, and amount going into cash value; low-risk investments in insurer's general account; may give good investment return when interest rates are high No forced savings; policy charges higher than traditional cash value policies; return may be marginal; if investment account is not funded, policy is an expensive method to buy term insurance protection Young buyers; buyers needing premium and face amount flexibility
Variable Life
Term and cash value split into distinct accounts; owner can direct cash value part of premium to several "mutual fund-like" sub-accounts Fixed premiums; owner directs investment portion into chosen sub-accounts Amount depends primarily on performance of sub-accounts Potential for investment return beyond that possible with "general account" policies Poor investment performance can drain or eliminate cash value (although face amount is guaranteed) Young buyers; buyers looking to direct their investments; buyers with long-term insurance and investment needs
Universal Variable Life
Combines features of Universal Life and Variable Life Like Universal Life, buyer controls amount of premium; like Variable Life, buyer directs premium payments into several sub-accounts Amount depends on premium funding and on investment performance of sub-accounts chosen Flexibility in premium amount, face amount, and amount going into cash value; potential for investment return beyond that possible with "general account" policies No forced savings; if investment component of policy is not funded, policy is a very expensive way of buying term protection; poor investment performance can drain or eliminate cash values and death benefits Young, risk-tolerant buyers having long-term insurance and investment needs; alternative to buying term and investing savings in a side fund
"Vanishing" Premium
Any of various types of cash value policies where premiums are overpaid in early years so that cash quickly accumulates and income thereon will be sufficient to pay premiums Fixed for traditional policies or "target" for variable policies Depends on type of policy employed, but cash value builds up quicker than "non-vanish" policies If policy performance is (and continues to be) as illustrated, owner will not have to pay premiums beyond the date illustrated If policy investment performance is poor, premiums may never "vanish," or may reappear after vanishing; if premiums are not then paid, policy could lapse For buyers who want the out-of-pocket payment of premiums not to extend beyond a given date; limited pay policies may be better choice if buyer counts on premiums to "vanish"
MEC (Modified Endowment Contract)
Investment-rich policies targeted for negative income tax treatment under the Internal Revenue Code Fixed, or variable, depending on policy Cash value builds up quickly, when compared to other cash value policies Retains the following tax advantages: (1) death benefit is income tax free, and (2) cash build-up is not subject to income tax, provided not withdrawn during life The gain on lifetime amounts removed from policy by loan or withdrawal is taxable, and if the owner is under age 59 1/2, is subject to an additional 10% on amount subject to income tax Buyers interested in tax-sheltered, investment-rich policy, who do not intend to make pre-death policy withdrawals; wealthy owners who use such policies to transfer income estate tax free

Comparing Selected Specialized/Hybrid Policies

Joint First-to-Die Policies
Description Premiums Cash Value Advantages Disadvantages Uses
Various cash value policies (Whole Life, Universal Life, Variable Life, etc.) that insure two persons, but pay out proceeds only on the first death Varies with type of underlying cash value policy selected Varies with type of underlying cash value policy selected Less expensive than buying a separate policy on each insured Limited flexibility; if needs change, these policies are less likely to retain their usefulness than more general policies; if proper planning is not done, first-to-die proceeds can inflate second insured's estate tax liability Where the death of either of the insureds would create a liquidity need for the survivor; to fund a business buy/sell agreement
Second-to-Die Policies
Various cash value policies (Whole Life, Universal Life, Variable Life, etc.) that insure two persons, but pay out proceeds only on the second death Varies with type of underlying cash value policy selected Varies with type of underlying cash value policy selected Much less costly than buying a separate policy on each insured Not very flexible; If needs change, these policies are less likely to retain their usefulness; does nothing to meet liquidity needs at death of first insured Where liquidity need will arise only on the death of the second insured; to pay estate tax liability of a surviving spouse
Adjustable Life Policies
A single policy that houses whole life and term life protection; owner is able to change face amount and to set premium allocation between whole life and term Normally will remain level unless owner changes face amount or the whole life vs. term allocation Guaranteed cash build-up will vary with the owner's whole life vs. term allocation Provides owner with the flexibility to change face and premium amounts, and to change between whole life and term A costly way to buy term insurance if insured heavily uses premium allocation for term protection; investment return usually marginal Young buyers; buyers needing premium and face amount flexibility
Family Income Policies
A single policy combining whole life and decreasing term coverage; provides family income after the death of the insured for a set term of years measured from policy inception Level throughout policy term Guaranteed cash build-up will be slower than for traditional whole life because part of the premium is paying for term protection Provides a stream of income upon death of insured; cheaper than Family Maintenance policy Not very flexible; amount of family income need may not be foreseeable at purchase; may result in overinsuring children and underinsuring wage earners Provide income protection while children are expected to be dependents
Family Maintenance Policies
A single policy combining whole life and level term coverage; provides family income after the death of the insured for a set term of years measured from the insured's death Level throughout policy term Guaranteed cash build-up will be slower than for traditional whole life because part of the premium is paying for term protection Period of installment income does not start until death of the insured; family is assured of installment period that is determinable on date policy is purchased Not very flexible; amount of family income need may not be foreseeable at purchase; may result in overinsuring children and underinsuring wage earners; more expensive than Family Income policy Assure income protection for fixed term after death of insured
Selected Specialized/Hybrid Policies: Family Protection Policies
A single policy (which may be issued as term, or cash value) insures all family members Varies with type of underlying cash value or term policy selected Varies with type of underlying cash value or term policy selected Makes sure that all family members are covered; only one policy, so is usually cheaper than individual policies providing same coverage on each Usually there is no compelling reason to have high coverage on children, so they may be overinsured (often at the expense of underinsuring the family income providers) Where fairly high policy protection for children is desired

Understanding Policy Provisions Enables You to Choose Wisely

In order to purchase the most appropriate life insurance for your situation, you'll need a basic understanding of the terms and provisions commonly found in most policies. While some are boilerplate that you have to accept if you want the policy, others provide you with the opportunity to customize your coverage and/or reduce your premiums.

Receiving Accelerated Death Benefits

Life insurance policies may include a provision that permits the accelerated payment of benefits to a policy holder who suffers from a serious medical condition (such as cancer, heart or kidney failure, AIDS, etc.) that will likely lead to his or her death within a specified time period, such as 12 or 24 months. Because the amount advanced comes from the "pure" term portion of the policy, both term and cash value policies may be written with an accelerated death benefit provision.

When acceleration is available under a policy, the amount that may be advanced under an accelerated benefit provision typically would be limited to a specified percentage of the death benefit (such as 50 percent of the death benefit) or a specific dollar amount (such as a $250,000 maximum benefit acceleration). If such an option is exercised, amounts paid during the insured's lifetime are treated similarly to a policy loan; interest accrues on the amount advanced, and the policy holder still owns the policy and must continue to pay premiums.

Viatical Settlements

Viatical settlements should not be confused with the accelerated payment of death benefits by an insurance company to its insured. A viatical settlement occurs when a policy holder suffering from a terminal or chronic medical condition sells the insurance policy (at a discount from face value) to a third-party viatical settlement company, which is in the business of buying policies under such conditions.

Tip

If you are contemplating a viatical settlement, check with your state department of insurance to confirm that a viatical settlement company is licensed to do business.

When a viatical settlement is transacted, the policy holder typically retains no further interest in the policy and is relieved of the need to pay future premiums. The viatical settlement company takes ownership of the policy and responsibility for paying any future premiums, and it will receive the payment of benefits from the insurance company upon the death of the insured.

Considering Life Settlements

A life settlement, like a viatical settlement, is the sale of a life insurance policy by the policy holder (the insured) for less than the face value of the policy to a third party investor. As in a viatical settlement, the investor takes ownership of the policy and responsibility for paying any related future premiums, and makes its return on investment when it receives the death benefits under the policy upon the death of the insured.

The major difference between the life settlement and the viatical settlement is that the insured who is selling his or her insurance policy in a life settlement is not terminally or chronically ill. As a result, the investor is taking a greater risk that the insured will live longer,a factor that will be reflected in the pricing of the life settlement. Life settlements are typically designed for individuals who are over age 65 for whom the original reason for which the policy was purchased no longer exists. There are many companies that specialize in life settlement investments.

Tax Consequences of Accelerated Death Benefits or Viatical Settlements

If a person who is terminally or chronically ill receives accelerated death benefits or acquires the proceeds of a viatical settlement, the amounts received are treated as amounts paid by reason of the death of the insured. This means that the amounts received are not taxable income. The rationale for the exclusion is to ease the financial pressure on a person urgently needing cash to address a serious health care crisis.

  • Terminal illness. A person is considered terminally ill if a doctor certifies that he or she has an illness or physical condition that can reasonably be expected to result in death within 24 months from the date of certification.
  • Chronic illness. Chronic illness can include mental illness as well as physical illness or functional disability. A person is chronically ill if, within the previous 12 months, a doctor certified that he or she:
    • cannot perform, without substantial assistance, at least two of the activities of daily living (eating, toileting, transferring, bathing, dressing and continence) for at least 90 days due to a loss of functional capacity
    • has a similar level of disability as determined by the IRS in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services or
    • requires substantial supervision to protect himself from threats to health and safety due to severe mental problems.

If the benefits are paid to a chronically ill person for long-term care, any benefit amount in excess of the IRS per diem limit (various depending upon age) and the actual costs of such long-term care is not eligible for exclusion from taxable income. This limitation does not apply for the terminally ill person.

Tax Consequences of Accelerated Death Benefits or Viatical Settlements

If a person is not terminally or chronically ill at the time of the transaction, then the exclusion from taxable income does not apply. The proceeds of life settlements will be taxed, either as ordinary income or capital gain income. 

Similarly, if a person who is not terminally or chronically ill surrenders his or her life insurance policy to the insurance company for its cash value, a portion of the proceeds from that transaction will be taxed as ordinary income.

Common Insurance Terms Defined

To help you wade through the jungle of insurance terms, we've highlight the most important ones in A-E.

Beneficiaries: Receive Policy Proceeds

Probably the most important right that a policyholder has under a life insurance policy is to name a policy beneficiary; that is, the person(s) or organization(s) that will get the proceeds when the policyholder dies. Normally, the policyholder may change a beneficiary designation at any time, unless he or she has made the selection irrevocable.

When making a beneficiary designation, make sure that you follow the insurance company's rules to the letter. If you don't, the designation may be invalid. If you die without choosing a beneficiary, the proceeds will be paid to your estate. This will unnecessarily subject the proceeds to probate, and, particularly in those states that still levy an estate tax, is normally not an arrangement that you would want.

Cash Value and Loans: Put Your Premiums to Work Now

The cash value of a life insurance policy represents the investment component of a cash value policy (such as a whole life policy). The policy will state whether it has, or will have, any cash value. (If it will not, the policy is a term insurance policy.) The cash value should increase each year as you make premium payments, part of which are invested and earn income over time.

Upon the death of the policyholder, most cash value insurance policies provide that the amount of the cash value becomes a part of the total death benefit, rather than being an addition to it. Thus, if at the death of policyholder, a $100,000 policy has a cash value of $25,000, the policy beneficiary will receive $100,000, not $125,000.

Insurance Loans

Cash-value life insurance policies allow the policyholder to borrow up to a specified percent of the cash value, frequently 95 percent, at fixed, or variable, rates. These loan rates are often less than those charged by commercial lenders, and can be received without the usual credit checks associated with commercial loans because the policy itself provides the security for the loan.

Paid-Up Insurance

Cash-value life insurance policies will also have a table showing the amount of paid-up permanent insurance that the policyholder can obtain on surrendering the policy, instead of getting cash or extended term coverage.

Dividends and Dividend Options: Pay You Currently

Among life insurance policies, only participating policies pay dividends. Although they are called "dividends," the payments are not like dividends paid on stock. Instead, they are merely the nontaxable return of some excess premium by the insurance company based on lower-than-expected mortality expenses (fewer claims than expected) and administrative expenses, and/or higher than expected investment yields. 

A participating policy will normally describe the five alternatives that can be selected with respect to any dividends that might become available:

  1. cash payment to the policyholder
  2. application to reduce premiums
  3. accumulation by the insurance company for the policyholder's benefit
  4. application to purchase paid-up insurance
  5. application to purchase one-year term coverage

Double Indemnity: Pays More for Accidental Death

A double indemnity provision is a life insurance policy rider available for an additional premium under which the beneficiaries are paid double the face amount of the policy if the insured dies as a result of an accident, rather than from illness or natural causes. The cost of this rider may range from 75 cents to $1.00 in added annual premium costs for each $1,000 in coverage.

Because of the tenuous relationship between how one dies and what one's beneficiaries' needs are, it is usually advisable to forgo purchasing double indemnity coverage. If you need more insurance, it's normally a better idea to use what you would have paid for the double indemnity rider to buy more coverage, rather than to "bet" that you will oblige your beneficiaries by dying in an accident, rather than by illness.

Extended Insurance, Premium Waivers: Forgive Late Premium Payments

Cash value life insurance, but not term insurance, provides that if a premium is not paid within the specified time limit, the coverage may not be terminated. Instead, the premiums are "paid" from the accumulated cash value of the policy. Therefore, the insurance generally continues as term insurance for a limited period, which can sometimes run for several years, depending on the amount of the policy's accumulated cash value.

The waiver of a premium rider provides that the insurance company will not collect premiums for a period of time during which the insured is disabled. When you are comparing the prices of policies issued by different insurance companies, keep this in mind: With some policies the rider is automatic, the cost being built into the annual premium. 

With others, it's an optional feature, the cost of which may vary depending on age, sex, the terms of the waiver and the particular insurance company. Although most insurance agents seem to swear by the waiver of premium coverage, if you must pay extra for it, ask yourself if you have adequate disability income coverage. If you do, maybe the waiver of premium coverage is something that can safely be passed up.

Guaranteed Insurability: Prevents Loss of Insurance

A guaranteed insurability rider gives the life insurance policyholder the right to purchase specified amounts of additional insurance at specified times. It is generally available only if the insured is under 40 years of age, and is less readily available with term policies. The cost of this rider varies, but often is approximately $1.50 per $1,000 of additional coverage. The premium for the added coverage is based on the insured's age at the time the added coverage is acquired.

Ownership and Assignment Clauses: Prescribe How to Transfer Policies

The person who owns the life insurance policy (the policyholder) is named in the ownership clause. The policyholder is usually the same person who is insured under the policy, but this does not have to be the case.

An insurance policy will also specify the rules for assigning (transferring) the policy to a new owner. Usually, the insurance company is not bound by the assignment until it receives a written notice of assignment. The assignment is subject to any outstanding policy loans. If used wisely, assignments of life insurance policies can be one of the best ways to make tax-free transfers of wealth to family members and others.

Participating Policies: Pay Dividends

Participating policies are issued by mutual life insurance companies; that is, insurance companies owned by their policyholders, rather than by stockholders. Unlike nonparticipating policies, participating policies pay dividends. In contrast, nonparticipating policies are life insurance policies issued by insurance companies that are owned by stockholders rather than policyholders. Nonparticipating policies do not pay dividends. Because of this, such policies normally have lower premiums, although, in the long run, participating policies may prove less costly.

Riders: Cover Special Situations

A policy rider is a provision that is added to the basic coverage of an insurance policy, by agreement of the policyholder and the insurance company, often for additional cost. The double indemnity and the waiver of premium provisions are common policy riders.

Settlement Options: Determine How Proceeds Are Paid

At the death of the insured, unless another arrangement has been made, the insurance proceeds will be paid to the beneficiary in a lump sum.

However, life insurance policies usually give the policyholder (or the beneficiary) the right to choose non-lump sum payouts, known as settlement options. There are five common types of settlement options:

  • Interest only. The beneficiary receives interest on the proceeds held by the insurance company. The policyholder may provide for someone (known as a contingent beneficiary) to take the proceeds at the first beneficiary's death. Or the initial beneficiary may be given the right to withdraw some or all of the proceeds in a lump sum from the insurance company.
  • Fixed period payments. The beneficiary will periodically receive as much money as the proceeds will "buy" for a specific time period. For example, the beneficiary might receive a specified amount each month for 20 years.
  • Fixed amount payments. The beneficiary will periodically receive a specified amount until the proceeds are exhausted.
  • Life income (annuity). The beneficiary will periodically receive a certain monthly payment for his or her lifetime. The amount of this payment will be determined by the amount of the proceeds and the life expectancy of the beneficiary at the time of the insured's death.
  • Joint and survivor life income (annuity). The beneficiary will periodically receive a payment for life. Thereafter, his or her spouse receives periodic payments for life. Under this option, the amount that the surviving spouse will receive is sometimes reduced to one-half or two-thirds of the amount that first beneficiary's received.
Tip

Although insurance companies have touted settlement options as "a poor man's trust," the insurance agents we have talked to are almost unanimous in this advice: "take the cash." The unstated assumption here is that in computing amounts to be received under settlement options, the insurance companies use interest rate assumptions that aren't particularly favorable to beneficiaries.

Using Life Insurance To Replace Your Business Income

You may have noticed the overwhelming majority of our life insurance advice focused on your personal financial situation. Although life insurance is usually used for personal needs, your business situation may affect your need for life insurance.

What If Your Family Can't Take Over Your Business?

You should ask yourself whether your spouse, family or dependents will be economically damaged if you are not there to run the business. Unless one or more of these people can step in to run the business at your death, you should think about whether the income from your business needs to be replaced.

For example, if your business is a family diner, you can start teaching your family the ropes early on. However, if you're an independent marketing consultant, your knowledge can't be easily transferred.

Factor in all other insurance that you have on your life and whether your family's expenses will go down if you are no longer there.

Example

John Stead's business (writing handicapping information for horse racing publications) generates yearly profits of $45,000, the only source of his family's income. Because no one in his family has the specialized skills to run the business, he does not intend that it will be operated after his death, and the business has no value after his death. 

He figures that if he is not alive, his family expenses will be decreased by $10,000 per year. He will need to replace $35,000 of yearly income.

Once you know the amount of income that needs to be replaced, you need to estimate how much investment return your survivors can obtain on the insurance funds. For example, if your heirs must replace $20,000 of income and can make 5 percent on their money, they will need $400,000 from insurance or other sources to do this.

What If Your Survivors Run the Business?

If you plan that your surviving spouse, family or others will continue to operate your business after your death, the question then becomes whether they can pick up where you left off without a period of lessened profits.

Level Profits

The best situation is where there will be no let-up in profits after your death. To achieve this, you must have operated your business in such a way that your family members know what must be done, and can do it. If you are at this point, you have probably involved your family in all aspects of business operation already. 

For example, they will be experienced in dealing with customers and suppliers, if that is required by your business. If this is the case, you have no particular increased need for life insurance because of your business, unless you wish to use it to meet certain lifetime needs. However, you may wish to purchase life insurance to provide a ready fund to pay any estate taxes that will be due, so that your heirs don't have to sell off needed business assets to pay Uncle Sam.

Diminishing Profits

It certainly would not be unusual if the family members who continue to run your business could not do so as profitably as you could—at least, not right away. No matter how talented or industrious they are, if they have not been intimately involved in the day-to-day running of the business, they probably will not be able to do everything as well as you did. This is particularly true with businesses that require specialized business knowledge or training, and businesses that depend on long-standing personal relationships with clients, customers or suppliers.

If you think that it will take your family members or heirs a few months, or a few years, to get the business back to where it's making the same profits that it did for you, life insurance can be used to bridge the period of diminished profits.

Example

Philip Labrador operates an up-scale dog grooming salon. He has established a reputation with wealthy dog-show exhibitors as the best groomer in the area, and his business earns profits of $70,000 per year. 

His son, Chuck, is an accomplished groomer himself, but does not have his father's business savvy or reputation with clients. Philip believes that if he died tomorrow, Chuck probably could operate the business at a profit of only $35,000 a year. With diligent effort, however, Chuck could have the business back to earning yearly profits of $70,000 in three years. 

Assuming that Philip wants Chuck to have the benefit of the full $70,000 income for the three years until Chuck can get the business back to its previous level of profits, Philip will need to make up for a $105,000 shortfall. This could be done by an insurance policy on Philip's life sufficient to pay a death benefit of $105,000, spread out over the three-year "bridge" period.

Lower Profits

You may conclude that your family will be able to run the business profitably after your death, but never at the profit level that you did. If this is so, and you want to provide your survivors with the same level of income that they enjoyed during your life, you will have to do something to make up for this shortfall in income.

Example

Mary Green works 80 hours a week operating a landscaping business. Her yearly income from the business is $40,000. She believes that her husband, Gary, could run the business after her death, but because he has another job, could only devote to it enough time to make a yearly profit of $20,000. 

If Mary wants Gary to enjoy the benefit of his salary plus the $40,000 per year that had come from the landscaping business during her life, she will need money from insurance (or other sources) sufficient to earn $20,000.

In the example above, insurance could be used to make up for the shortfall.

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