Life insurance or life assurance is a contract between the policy owner and the insurer , where the insurer agrees to pay a sum of money upon the occurrence of the insured individual's or individuals' death or other event, such as terminal illness or critical illness. In return, the policy owner agrees to pay a stipulated amount called a premium at regular intervals or in lump sums. There may be designs in some countries where bills and death expenses plus catering for after funeral expenses should be included in Policy Premium. In the United States, the predominant form simply specifies a lump sum to be paid on the insured's demise.
As with most insurance policies, life insurance is a contract between the insurer and the policy owner whereby a benefit is paid to the designated benefits if an insured event occurs which is covered by the policy. To be a life policy the insured event must be based upon the lives of the people named in the policy.
Insured events that may be covered include:
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; for example 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 anyway) are whole life, universal life and variable life.
Parties to contract
There is a difference between the insured and the policy owner (policy holder), although the owner and the insured are often the same person.
The beneficiary receives policy proceeds upon the insured'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. With an irrevocable beneficiary, that beneficiary must agree to any beneficiary changes, policy assignments, or cash value borrowing.
Insurance vs. assurance
"insurance" refers to providing cover for an event that might happen (fire, theft, flood, etc.), while
"assurance" is the provision of cover for an event that is certain to happen.
However, in the United States both forms of coverage are called "insurance", principally due to many companies offering both types of policy, and rather than refer to themselves using both insurance and assurance titles, they instead use just one.
Types of life insurance
Life insurance may be divided into two basic classes – temporary and permanent or following subclasses - term, universal, whole life, variable, variable universal and endowment life insurance.