Wealth Management Blog

Posts tagged Life Insurance

Dust Off Life Insurance Policies

By JJ Burns

March 1, 2013

When was the last time you reviewed your life insurance policies? If you’re like most people, you’ve probably stashed your policies in a drawer, filing cabinet, or safe deposit box where they’ve been gathering dust. But you should review your policies periodically to see whether they still meet your needs. Depending on the outcome, you might adjust your coverage.

In particular, you should examine your policy if you’ve experienced one or more major “life events” during the past year. What sort of events are we talking about?

  • There may have been a birth, death, or disability in the family.
  • You got married, divorced, or separated.
  • You bought or sold a principal residence, vacation home, or other real estate property.
  • Your child completed college or graduate school.
  • You acquired property as a joint tenant.
  • You have switched jobs, retired, or started up a new business.
  • There was a significant economic change affecting your business operation.
  • You need to revise the beneficiaries of your insurance policies due to a change in circumstances.

Note that other changes that might trigger a life insurance review could be less obvious. For instance, you may need additional coverage if you’re now taking on financial responsibilities for an elderly or disabled relative. Conversely, your financial responsibilities may decrease somewhat if you have finished paying off a home.

Furthermore, you should try to view your family’s needs as if you were buying life insurance for the first time. It’s your current and future circumstances that are the critical factors—not how things were last year or several years before. And don’t forget to review all of your life insurance policies, including any group coverage that your employer (and your spouse’s employer) might be providing.

Needless to say, this is an on-going process. A main function of life insurance is to replace lost income that your family relies on if you should die prematurely. When your financial obligations are small, the amount of life insurance coverage you require is also small. However, as those obligations grow, so does your need to acquire more coverage.

Typically, your life insurance needs will be at their greatest when your children are relatively young and you’re in the midst of your career. Once your children have flown the coop, or you have retired, your insurance needs will likely not be as great.

Best approach: Assess your life insurance needs at regular intervals. You may want to do so at the start of a new year or on some other “anniversary” date. In any event, don’t let too much time go by without a regular check-up.

Getting a Life Insurance Check-Up

By JJ Burns

March 26, 2012

Do you need to update your life insurance protection? You may be surprised to learn that your existing policies are no longer sufficient to meet your needs.

If you’re like many people, you probably took care of your life insurance years ago. You bought as much coverage as you felt you needed, and then you stashed the contract in a drawer or safe somewhere and pretty much forgot about it. But it would be unusual if your family financial situation hadn’t changed significantly since then. For example, you might now have too little insurance if you’ve added another child or two to your brood. But it could also work the other way. If your children have left the family nest or you’ve retired, you may be able to cut the amount of your coverage.

Now is as good a time as any to dust off that old policy and review it. You may find it doesn’t reflect one or several major life events you’ve experienced since you acquired the coverage. Those might include:

  • You have married, divorced, or separated;
  • There has been a birth, death, disability, marriage, or divorce involving someone else in your family;
  • One or more of your children has completed college or graduate school;
  • You bought or sold your principal residence, a vacation home, or investment real estate;
  • You switched jobs, started your own business, or retired; or
  • There has been a big shift in your financial or business circumstances.

Other family changes could also have an impact. For instance, you may have taken on the care of an elderly or disabled relative, thus adding to your financial commitments and increasing the amount of replacement income that would be needed if you died. Meanwhile, if you’ve paid off your mortgage, you may be able to reduce your coverage.

When you review your policy, examine it as if you were buying life insurance for the first time. It’s your projections for the future that are the crucial factors—not the way things were a few years earlier. And don’t forget to review all of your life insurance policies, including any group coverage you get through your employer (or your spouse’s employer), taking into account recent estate tax law changes.

The amount of coverage you need is likely to drop as you get older, and you may eventually decide you can do without life insurance, though it could also play a role in your estate plan. Also, consider the return you may receive on cash value, especially with whole life policies. What’s certain is that your financial situation will continue to evolve, so it makes sense to make an insurance review a regular event—if you mark it on your calendar each year, you won't forget to conduct this important checkup.

Come to Terms with Term Life Policies

By JJ Burns

February 24, 2012

For many people, permanent life insurance—which includes whole and universal life policies, among others—is a good financial fit. Very often, however, a less expensive option—term life insurance—works even better. As the name implies, this type of policy provides coverage for a specific term, usually a level-premium period of 10 to 30 years (which is then often renewable to age 80 or beyond). That limitation means you pay less in premiums, though the cost advantage generally decreases as you get older.

Unlike permanent or “cash value” life insurance, which lets you build up cash value in your policy, term insurance provides only a death benefit and is often referred to as “pure” insurance. A big advantage of term insurance is its simplicity. Permanent life policies come in myriad forms, and may put the investment portion of your premium into fixed or variable investments. Fees vary widely depending on the type of policy and the riders and options you choose. Though often touted for the ability to promote saving through required premium payments, whole life and other permanent policies may be inferior to other retirement savings vehicles such as employer-sponsored plans or IRAs. In contrast, term policies are easy to understand—you make a specified payment in return for a promised death benefit.

Term insurance often appeals to those who are in the prime of their careers but who have multiple financial commitments, for mortgage payments, retirement and education savings, and other obligations. Term insurance lets such policyholders cheaply guarantee financial security for their families in the case of an untimely death.

The face amount of a term policy—its death benefit—remains the same throughout whatever number of years the policy is in force. For most level-premium policies, the insurer can’t adjust that amount, the length of the term, or the amount of the premiums. When the term expires, however, your insurance coverage ends. Many term policies guarantee you the chance to renew the insurance for an additional term, but the new premiums will be higher, reflecting your shorter life expectancy.

The cost of a particular term policy depends on your age, your health, and other factors. Typically, when you apply for a policy, you’ll have to answer detailed questions about your medical history and risk factors—policies for smokers usually cost more, for example—and you’ll have to pass a medical examination. (Some term insurance policies, approved in most states, enable you to obtain coverage without taking a physical.)

To find a term policy, you can shop online or you can work through an insurance agent. Choose a highly rated insurance company that will be around if and when your heirs need to collect on your policy.