People often ask, “How long do you have to have life insurance before you die,” for obvious reasons. It is human nature to procrastinate or to resist paying for something you may not “use.”

After all, a life insurance winner buys the coverage today and dies the day after it becomes effective. Perfect timing maximizes your bang for the buck. It beats paying into a policy for years, letting it lapse, and then getting nothing back in return.

However, an immediate claim works only if the policy does not have a waiting period, the cause of death does not conflict with the period of contestability rules, or other standard exclusions do not lead to a denied claim.

Life Insurance Coverage That Starts Immediately

Finding life insurance coverage that starts immediately means you may not have to wait long before the policy pays out. However, the devil is in the details. Keep in mind; insurance companies design the plans to cover future unforeseen risks.

In this case, the unforeseen risk is the premature death of the insured person. Therefore, you should expect the companies to weed out applicants who expect to die very soon. You will find this with all three main types of coverage.

  1. Term contracts lasting 10 to 30 years
  2. Permanent contracts with cash value

Coverage Effective Date

The life insurance coverage effective date is the day that the policy becomes a legal contract. This definition is important because other features rely on this start time. The anniversary date, the period of contestability, conversion privileges, and optional riders all begin counting from this point in time.

A life insurance policy typically becomes effective once you meet specific milestones. Read the legal language carefully. Contract law requires signed authorization (signed application) and consideration (one month of premium). Below are three different scenarios:

  • Premium collected with the application
    • Operative on the application date if approved
  • Premium paid after issuance
    • Valid after the policy is delivered and accepted by the insured during his or her lifetime and continued insurability
  • Purchases through employer payroll deduction
    • Begins on the account’s coverage effective date

Of the three alternatives noted above, paying the premium at the time of application is the best method for starting the effective date as early as possible.

Without Waiting Period

Buying life insurance without a waiting period is also possible for people willing to answer questions and/or agree to a medical examination. In addition, applicants of any health status can obtain same day coverage with no waiting period for accidental death.

  • Fully underwritten policies include health questions and medical exams. It takes longer to get the coverage approved, but there is no waiting period for death benefit claims once the contract becomes effective.
  • Simplified issue policies feature non-medical questions, no medical exam, and no waiting period before death benefit claims become payable. However, the face amounts are modest.
  • Guaranteed issue policies feature no health questions or a medical examination. However, the face amounts are very small and include a graded death benefit feature that lasts 2 years.

All three coverage types feature accidental death benefits without a waiting period. If you buy today and die in an accident tomorrow the company may have to honor the claim. However, expect an investigation.

Accidental Death Riders

Your life insurance policy may contain an accidental death rider that features an immediate benefit in many instances. A rider is an optional coverage that could increase the death benefit amount in the event the insured dies because of something other than a disease of the body, mental infirmity, or diagnostic medical or surgical treatment.

Check your policy for some of these common accidental death exclusions relating to the rider. Your company could cite one of these reasons for not paying a claim.

  • Involvement in an armed conflict
  • Participating in a criminal activity
  • Use of any drugs, intoxicants (alcohol), or narcotics except medications prescribed by a doctor
  • Engaging in specified high-risk activities or avocations

Life Insurance Period of Contestability

The period of contestability also factors into how long you need to have life insurance before you die. The contestability period is the time during which the issuing company can fight to invalidate a policy or deny a claim.

  • Suicide or intentional acts of self-harm
  • Misrepresentation of fact on an application
  • Homicide involving a beneficiary

Suicide Contestability

The Acts of Self-Harm contestability period determines how long after the effective date before a life insurance policy will pay for suicidal death. Each state has different regulations regarding suicide exclusion periods. Check your contract language for details.

Many companies will refund the premiums paid without interest and void the contract if the insured dies by suicide (whether sane or insane) within the stated contestability period. Expect the underwriting department to order the coroner’s report, medical records, and the police report before denying the claim.

Misrepresentation of Fact

The Misrepresentation of Fact contestability period dictates how long before a life insurance policy kicks in to cover drug overdoses and other questionable causes of death. Expect the company to perform an investigation and autopsy if the beneficiaries file a claim during the one or two year contestability period.

Drug overdoses fall under greater scrutiny during the early years of the contract because they can indicate self-harm, and people with addictions tend to lie. Therefore, the company will check to see if the insured gave incorrect information on the application. They may do one of two things if they find material misstatements.

  1. Reject the claim and refund the premiums if they determine they would not have issued the policy
  2. Adjust the death benefit payable if they determine that they would have charged a higher premium

This is why it is very important to answer all questions on the application truthfully. Dishonest answers can come back to bite your beneficiaries if you die shortly after the effective date. The company may compare the autopsy report to the application to flag common anomalies.

  • Use of tobacco and cigarette smoking
  • Treatment or conviction for use of alcohol or drugs

Homicide Clause

Life insurance contracts will often contain a homicide clause relating to accidental deaths. Expect the claims department to obtain a police report to verify that the beneficiary was not involved in the incident – either directly or indirectly. A report implicating the possible recipient in the murder is another reason to deny a claim.

The homicide clause protects both the issuing company and the insured. Nobody wants a situation where a beneficiary has an incentive to hasten another person’s demise.