Life insurance is a simple product

Life insurance is a simple product. It pays out if you die. If you don’t die and continue to pay the premiums your insurance provides financial security for your family.

There are variations when you get into universal-life and whole-life insurance, but term insurance is all that most people need.

Still, many people don’t understand life insurance. Perhaps that’s the reason that so many have no insurance, inappropriate amounts (too much or too little) or the wrong kind of insurance for their needs. That, plus the fact that they may not know where to buy insurance.

In his fine book, The Facts of Life: How to Build Wealth and Protect Your Assets with Life Insurance, Paul Grimes makes the point that a better, more accurate name for the product would be standard-of-living insurance.

“That’s because it’s designed to help your beneficiaries (presumably, your family) maintain their standard of living even after your death,” Grimes writes. “Will your death – more specifically, the loss of your income – jeopardize your family’s standard of living?”

Imagine that you’re a 40-year-old man earning a six-figure income whose wife has been home for years raising three children. She could return to work, but her job skills are lacking and her income would below. Plus, then there would be child-care costs. Oh, then there is that small matter of a $200,000 mortgage and a car loan.

Clearly, there is a need for insurance to protect your family from financial ruin. Don’t forget insurance on your spouse. She has no income but if something happened to her you’d have to deal with child care, at the very least.

How much insurance do you need? Some advisors recommend five to 10 times your annual income, but that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at it and doesn’t account for the need for insurance on a no-income spouse.

Related article: How much life insurance do you need?

Grimes points out that there are many online needs-analysis tools. That’s a better way than using some income multiplier, but you’ll need to buy the insurance somewhere anyway and you’re best off with an independent broker with access to products from many different insurers. Have the broker do a proper needs analysis.

A do-it-yourself needs analysis will likely be wrong – you’ll probably miss something or incorrectly input some of the information. Perhaps your error will be small and you’re slightly underinsured. No big deal, perhaps. However, your error could leave you underinsured by a couple of hundred grand. Big deal!

Unless you need life insurance for only a few years, consider a 20-year term policy, which costs less than two 10-year terms. Your broker can be helpful in analyzing the options.

Related article: What type of life insurance should you buy?

Grimes discusses mortgage insurance. It’s a poor product pushed by banks and other lenders. You’re much better off building mortgage insurance into your personal insurance plan.

Related article: Do your homework before you buy life insurance

Be sure to also consider disability insurance. That’s another topic, except to say that disability insurance is often more important than life insurance. Usually, the risk of a disability that prevents you from working for months or years is far greater than your risk of death.

That means that disability-insurance costs are significantly higher than those of life insurance, but the financial risk of a disability that may prevent you from working for three or four years (or longer) can crush your finances, including the retirement savings that you’ve accumulated over many years.

Related article: Understanding disability insurance

Paul Grimes does a great job of explaining life insurance concepts. Get the book and read it. If you have adult children, pass it along to them.


  1. Derek

    Life insurance is a very important part of any financial plan. I find that many folks will often get too much life insurance. As a result, they end up paying pretty hefty premiums each month. You should have just enough to help cover debt payments, not so much that it’s like your family just won the lottery!

  2. Michael

    Excellent post! Good perspective and right level of priority on life insurance and disability insurance.

    I agree with the author that a term life insurance for the right amount should cover most people’s needs.

  3. Claude Mayrand


    This is an important topic and you touched on the purpose of a life insurance policy. Too many insurance products pay too much commission to trust sales peoples’ motives for proposing them.

    You mentioned that the premiums for disability coverage are expensive and maybe why; I had expensive disability insurance and never had a claim. I find it interesting that life insurance premiums are significantly less while everybody dies and therefore the benefit is always paid out.

    You also mentioned 2 life insurance products that too many salespeople propose and even push somewhat. I’ve learned why, but I think you should have mentioned why term insurance is the best product for the average person.

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