Life insurance is a legal contract between an insurance company and a policy owner and is governed by state law. Under the terms of the policy contract, the policy owner pays premiums in exchange for the promise of payment of a specified amount of money to a named beneficiary when the insured dies. The policy itself contains provisions specifying the rights and obligations of the parties under the contract. The specific purpose of life insurance is to replace the economic loss resulting from a person's death using money from a pool of funds to which many people contributed a relatively small amount.
You know that you need life insurance. However, with the wide variety of insurance policies available, you may find choosing the right one difficult. It's really not as confusing as it seems, however, once you understand the basic types of life insurance policies.
Term Life Insurance
With a term policy, you get "pure" life insurance coverage. Term insurance provides a death benefit for only a specific period of time. If you die during the coverage period, your beneficiary (the person you named to collect the insurance proceeds) receives the death benefit (the face amount of the policy). If you live past the term period, your coverage ends, and you get nothing back.
Traditional Whole Life Insurance
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent insurance or cash value insurance. Unlike term insurance, which provides coverage for a particular period of time, permanent insurance provides coverage for your entire life. When you make premium payments, you pay more than is needed to pay for the current costs of insurance coverage and expenses. The excess payment is credited to a cash value account. This cash value account allows the insurance company to charge a level, guaranteed premium and to provide a death benefit and cash value throughout the life of the policy.
Universal life is another type of permanent life insurance with a death benefit and a cash value account. Like whole life insurance, the cash value is held in the insurance company's general portfolio--you don't get to choose how the account is invested. Unlike traditional whole life, universal life insurance allows you flexibility in making premium payments.
Joint or Survivorship Life for you and your spouse
Some married couples choose to buy insurance together within the same policy. These policies take the form of either a joint first-to-die or a joint second-to-die (survivorship) design. With first-to-die, the death benefit is paid at the death of the spouse who dies first. With second-to-die, no death benefit is paid until both spouses are deceased. Second-to-die policies are commonly used in estate planning to create a pool of funds to pay estate taxes and other expenses due at the death of the second spouse. Joint and survivorship policies are generally available under any type of permanent life insurance. Other than the fact that two people are insured under one policy, the policy characteristics remain the same.