Life insurance is a contract (called a policy)- A policy is a contract between a life insurance company and someone (or occasionally something, like a trust) who has a financial interest in the life and livelihood of someone else. The insurance company pools the premiums of policyholders and pays out claims—called a death benefit—in the event of a death. The difference between the premiums taken in and the claims paid out is the insurance company’s profit.
There are four primary players, or roles, in a life insurance policy- These roles belong to the insurer, the owner, the insured and the beneficiary. The insurer is the insurance company, responsible for paying out claims in the case of a death. The owner of the policy is responsible for premium payments to the insurance company. The insured is the person upon whose life the policy is based. The beneficiaryis the person, trust or other entity due to receive the life insurance claim—or death benefit—in the case of the insured’s passing. For example, I am both the owner and the insured for two life insurance policies (with two different insurers, as it happens). My wife is the beneficiary of each. We walk through the numbers together at least annually (and after major arguments, to prove that I’m still worth more alive!).
Life insurance does not simply apply a monetary value to someone’s life. Instead, it helps compensate for the inevitable financial consequences that accompany the loss of life. Strategically, it helps those left behind cover the costs of final expenses, outstanding debts and mortgages, planned educational expenses and lost income. But most importantly, in the aftermath of an unexpected death, life insurance can lessen financial burdens at a time when surviving family members are dealing with the loss of a loved one. In addition, life insurance can provide valuable peace of mind for the policy holder. That is why life insurance is vital for the bread winner of a single-income household, but still important for a stay-at-home spouse.
If anyone relies on you financially, you need life insurance. It’s virtually obligatory if you are a spouse or the parent of dependent children. But you may also require life insurance if you are someone’s ex-spouse, life partner, a child of dependent parents, the sibling of a dependent adult, an employee, an employer or a business partner. If you are stably retired or financially independent, and no one would suffer financially if you were to be no more, then you don’t need life insurance. You may, however, consider using life insurance as a strategic financial tool.