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Life insurance and estate planning in the age of COVID-19

older woman with face mask COVID 19

When it comes to #adulting, there are only a handful of other milestones that are more tedious than the purchase of life insurance. 

But it is a necessary step because it’s the responsible thing to do. 

The purpose of life insurance is to help plan for future, unknowable but potentially devastating events. Like homeowner’s insurance, life insurance allows you to hedge — pay a little (or a lot) now for a potential future pay-out. A duller, more responsible way of saying this: Life insurance provides financial protection to surviving family members (or other beneficiaries) after your death. 

But life insurance, like all insurance, can be tricky to navigate — even worse now that we are dealing with the coronavirus global outbreak. 

To help you figure out whether you need life insurance, how much you should get, and whether or not it’s even possible to get a policy (now that we are all dealing with COVID-19), we’ve put together this mini-guide. But isn’t definitive. Consider this mini-guide your tool for finding that needle in your life-insurance haystack. Whenever possible, we offer additional information and resources to help you navigate the sometimes complicated world of life insurance. 

To start, let’s briefly go through the basics. Here’s what you’ll learn: 

What Is Life Insurance?
Do I need life insurance?
How much is enough?
Insurance coverage and COVID-19
If you already have life insurance how does the pandemic affect you?
If you do not have life insurance how does the pandemic affect you?
Different types of policies
Finding coverage in the age of COVID-19
Halt on all new business
Coronavirus exclusions
Greater focus on travel restrictions
Consider a guaranteed acceptance life insurance policy
Use short-term solutions to bridge the gaps
Shopping for an insurance policy during a pandemic

What Is Life Insurance?

paper cut out of family with umbrella insurance protection

Life insurance is a legal contract between you (the policyholder) and your insurance provider. While there are many variations to this contract, as we’ll discuss below, the basic premise is that you promise to make monthly payments (and be honest about your health and lifestyle choices) and the insurer agrees to pay a specified amount to your named beneficiaries when you die. 

Do I need life insurance?

If you are in a significant relationship (either common-law or married) or have children or a desire to leave a legacy, you probably need life insurance. 

The idea behind life insurance is to provide your loved ones with a financial sum that would help them pay for funeral bills, pay off debts and replace any earnings that will be missed, should you die. For that reason, the younger you are and the more assets you own, the higher the life insurance payout should be (but we’ll get to that in a minute). 

When deciding on whether or not to pay for life insurance ask yourself the following: 

  • How much do I contribute to the family budget? 
  • If I were to die prematurely, how would my survivor(s) get by, especially dependent children? 
  • Does anyone else depend on me financially, such as a parent, grandparent, brother or sister? 
  • Do I want the mortgage on my home paid off in the event of my death?
  • If you have children, ask yourself: Do I want to put aside money to complete my child’s education in the event of my death? 
  • If you are a single parent or divorced parent, ask yourself: What level of support payments am I making/getting? How would these continue in the event of my death/payer’s death? 
  • Are there any other family members or organizations to whom I would like to leave money? 
  • Could I use life insurance to play a role in business or farm succession plans? 
  • Could I use life insurance to play a role in paying the taxes incurred when capital property is transferred from one generation to the next?

Additional Reading for Smart Estate Planning

How much is enough?

An industry-standard answer to the question of ‘how much life insurance is enough’ is to calculate five to seven times your current net income (that’s after-tax income). 

For example, if your after-tax contribution to the family income is $50,000 per year, then you should get a life insurance policy that pays between $250,000 to $350,000, upon your death.

But that’s a ballpark figure that estimates lost income contribution due to your death. You should also factor in debts and future costs. 

Let’s assume you have a house with a $500,000 mortgage. If you were to die today, your partner would have to continue paying down this mortgage. Another option is to add some or all of this mortgage debt to the policy payout you want. Based on our example, you would then need a life insurance policy that pays between $750,000 to $850,000, upon your death. 

Continue adding in debts you want paid off and future costs you want to cover to reach a total payout sum. If you’d rather do a more comprehensive analysis of your assets, liabilities and life insurance needs, go to any of the following: 

You can work out the specifics but it also helps to talk to a professional. Keep in mind, insurance advisors do get paid a commission, based on the policy they ‘sell’ you, but professional agents also know that bad suggestions don’t lead to repeat business. 

Insurance coverage and COVID-19

Virus mask Asian woman travel wearing face protection in prevent

In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 outbreak has changed the world in completely unprecedented ways. Everywhere, people are attempting to take stock and recalibrate and one way Canadians are doing this is to review how assets and estates are impacted should a loved one become incapacitated or worse. 

It should come as no surprise that search inquiries for insurance spiked in the last week or so. According to Google Trends, searches for insurance increased by 58% in the week of March 15, 2020, when compared to the week of March 15, 2019. 

Long-term care, business interruption and life insurance claims will spike over the next few weeks and months, as we all grapple with the rising number of quarantined, sick and deaths due to the spread of COVID-19.

How the current COVID-19 pandemic affects life insurance depends on several factors, such as: 

  • Do you already have an existing life insurance policy?
  • Have you been honest about your recent travel? 
  • Whether you have already contracted the virus?

If you already have life insurance how does the pandemic affect you?

If you have an existing life insurance policy, and have paid the premiums for two or more years, then you don’t need to worry as the current COVID-19 outbreak will not affect your account. It also means, if you pass away during the COVID-19 outbreak (and you’ve been honest, paid your premiums and the policy didn’t lapse or expire) your beneficiaries will be paid the death benefit (the policy payout). 

If you already have an existing life insurance policy, but it is less than two years old, your beneficiaries are still entitled to the policy payout, but the insurance provider will probably delay payment for six to 12 months, to verify that all information you gave when setting up the policy was honest and accurate. 

For more on how life insurance payouts work, check out Gina Roberts-Grey article on Investopedia

If you do not have life insurance how does the pandemic affect you?

If you would like to purchase a life insurance policy during this pandemic, there are a few things to consider. 

  1. Be completely honest about any recent travel you’ve done, even if you were in a high-risk area. Travel, even travel to high-risk locations, will not prevent you from getting coverage, but being dishonest could void your policy, should you die, meaning you paid the premiums, but your beneficiaries won’t get a payout. 
  2. Don’t apply if you still have COVID-19. If you contracted the coronavirus, or any other virus, it’s best to wait until you’ve made a complete recovery before applying for coverage. Most applicants currently with coronavirus are finding their applications denied. 
  3. Follow Canada Health guidelines to avoid contracting coronavirus. For your best chance of getting life insurance coverage during the pandemic, follow the prevention and risk advice offered by Canada Health

Different types of policies

different types of insurance policies   home insurance   mortgage default

If this is your first venture into the world of life insurance, the dizzying array of policy types and names can get overwhelming. Thankfully, life insurance coverage can be boiled down to two basic types: 

  1. Permanent
  2. Term

Permanent life insurance has several variations: whole life, universal life, variable life. All are designed to provide insurance protection for your entire lifetime, as long as you keep the policy in force. This means the policy will not expire at a pre-set time. It also means the premiums remain relatively the same throughout your lifetime, even though your chance for death increases as you age. There are two components to all variations of permanent life insurance: a death benefit and an investment portion. The death benefit is the lump sum a beneficiary is paid, when you die. The investment portion of permanent life insurance is just that: A portion of your premium is pooled with other policyholder premiums and invested in the market. 

Term life insurance provides insurance coverage for a specified period of time and then expires. Standard term life policies will last for 5 to 25 years, however some term policies will expire when the policyholder reaches a predetermined age. Premiums on a term policy do not change throughout the term, however, premiums do increase as you age and renew policies. Unlike permanent life insurance, term life has only one component: the death benefit. 

To decide which type of policy to get, some insurance providers suggest getting permanent insurance for permanent needs, such as funeral costs, estate taxes or legacy gifts, and term insurance for temporary needs, such as a mortgage (eventually paid off), care for dependent children or lost income (which decreases in retirement). 

That said, if you think you’d struggle to pay permanent premiums, a term policy is sufficient for most needs. 

For more on how to use term life and permanent life insurance, read the following: 

Finding coverage in the age of COVID-19

If you’re looking to get life insurance coverage today or in the near future, here are few things to consider. 

Halt on all new business

Some insurance carriers may temporarily pause issuing any new life insurance policies. This will make it difficult should you require coverage in the near future. 

There’s not much you can do about this, except to shop around. 

Coronavirus exclusions

Just like home insurance, life insurance premiums and payouts are based on statistics. The higher the statistical chance of an event the greater the premium or the chance that the event/situation/cause is excluded from coverage. 

This is why some insurance carriers have already started to add COVID-19 exclusion riders to new life insurance policies. This means you can get life insurance coverage, but your policy will not pay out should you die as a result of the coronavirus (or a related virus, such as SARS or MERS). This exclusionary rider could become an industry standard.

Greater focus on travel restriction

Did you know even before COVID-19, life insurance companies had underwriting rules about travel (and other lifestyle choices). These rules meant that anyone you frequently travelled to higher risk areas of the world (or travelled to these places in the last five years), would have higher premiums. 

Going forward, anyone who plans to travel to higher-risk regions can expect even higher premiums, or even application denials. Remember, it doesn’t pay to be dishonest about this, as this could void your contract, leaving your beneficiaries with nothing. 

Instead, shop around. 

Consider a guaranteed acceptance life insurance policy

Or consider a guaranteed acceptance policy, a type of life insurance you can get without medical or lifestyle underwriting. There are issues with this type of policy. First, the premiums are typically far more expensive, in part, because it’s a permanent type of life insurance, but also because they need to overcome the cost of not underwriting health and life choices. Also, these policies require a two to three-year period of paying premiums before a beneficiary could make a claim — so, if you have coronavirus and you’re hoping this policy will help your beneficiaries should you pass, don’t bother. (For more on guaranteed policies, read Choice Mutual’s article.)

Use short-term solutions to bridge the gap

If you’re in the market for life insurance and can’t get a provider to give you a quote, consider adding mortgage life insurance, a type of coverage offered by your mortgage provider. This type of life insurance is designed to pay off the rest of your mortgage in the event that you die.

However, with all the choices in the insurance world, mortgage life insurance isn’t a great deal (as I’ve explained in the past); it’s non-transferrable, so premiums are lost and the policy is cancelled if you move. Also, virtually all lender-sponsored mortgage life insurance policies works using a declining payout — so the payout decreases as you pay off your mortgage, even though premiums stay the same.

For example, you may start out paying premiums for $500,000 worth of coverage, but over time, as you pay down your mortgage, you end up paying the same premium for less coverage. It’s why most financial planners (and insurance advisors) strongly suggest getting a term life insurance policy, instead. However, if you can’t get coverage — either because of COVID-19 or because of other health or lifestyle issues — consider mortgage life insurance as a temporary solution. 

Shopping for an insurance policy during a pandemic

shopping for insurance social distancing using phone

Whether you shop online through a consolidator, through a direct-provider (an insurer that sells directly to consumers) or call your local insurance agent, chances are you’ll get the same coverage for the same price policies that offer basic coverage for simple, straight-forward applications.

Where it gets complicated is when you have health or lifestyle situations that may alert the insurance provider actuaries (people tasked with matching statistics with premiums). At that point, it’s a really good idea to talk to an insurance agent. 

Regardless of how you choose to shop for coverage, make sure you get answers to the following: 

  • Cost of coverage for a term vs. permanent policy (using same assumptions); 
  • With term policies, ask if the policy is renewable (meaning you don’t need to take another medical or reapply in order to renew); 
  • Ask if the term policy is convertible (you can move it to a permanent insurance policy in the future)

Finally, the ideal coverage isn’t always the coverage you can afford. Don’t worry. The key is to get enough coverage to keep your family from becoming destitute or suffering large financial losses, should you die. For some, that means enough to pay off the mortgage. For others, income-replacement is key. The bottom line, however, is that you get enough coverage to protect your loved ones. 

Image of Romana King

Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance writer, real estate expert and the current Director of Content at Zolo. Romana has contributed to business and lifestyle publications including CBC.ca, Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, MoneySense, Globe & Mail Custom Content Team, and The Toronto Star. Among her achievements, Romana won silver for her annual Where to Buy Now real estate package in the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. In 2015, she won a SABEW Business Journalism award. When she was editor of CI Top Broker, Romana helped guide her team to obtain its first KRW Business Journalism nomination, and in 2011, she was part of a small team that helped MoneySense win Magazine of the Year at the 34th annual National Magazine Awards.