What Is the Life Insurance Contestability Period and Why Should You Care About?
If you die within 2 years of obtaining life insurance coverage, the insurance carrier has the right to contest and investigate the claim. This happens BEFORE paying out a death benefit to your beneficiaries.
When you went through the application process, the underwriters will have reviewed your medical records. However, there are some items they may take your word for in good faith.
During the 2 year contestability period, they have the right to go back and dig a little deeper to confirm everything. There is no way to know for sure if they will, but they certainly HAVE that right and have exercised it in the past.
Don’t count on sneaking something by them. Insurance companies are multi-million dollar machines. They have the resources to investigate and find out if someone is cheating them.
Why is the contestability period necessary?
The two-year contestability period exists to protect insurance companies from financial loss. Life insurance premiums are based in large part on the medical history and lifestyle of the insured. Things like smoking, using other tobacco products, or participation in dangerous hobbies will lead to higher premiums to account for the increased risk.
When you see the difference in cost of the premiums that some of these health and lifestyle choices result in, it can be very tempting to “fudge the truth” to get the lower rate.
What happens when a company contests a claim?
If the insurer decides to investigate a claim, they may request medical records and/or other documents. They are looking for anything that may show evidence of misrepresentation on the initial insurance application.
What can happen if the insurer finds evidence of dishonesty?
In extreme cases, they can cancel your coverage or deny a death benefit claim altogether. This would obviously be VERY BAD news for your beneficiaries.
If the misrepresentation is deemed to have been accidental or not quite as malicious, they may adjust the payout to reflect for what you should have paid in premiums had they known the entire truth initially.
You had been paying $500 per year in premiums. New information surfaced that showed you should have been in a lower health class with $1,200 per year in premiums. The $700 difference per year could be subtracted from the payment your beneficiary receives.
What about suicide?
Suicide is actually a separate clause that is included in most life insurance policies. While it is different from the contestability period, it is often for the same 2 years so the two are often mentioned together.
If the insured commits suicide during the first 2 years, this will usually result in no death benefit payment made. Any premiums paid will typically be returned. This is for the simple reason that if someone is planning to end their life, they can’t just go out and buy a policy the week before. After 2 years have passed, a suicide will result in a full death benefit payout.
What if I reinstate my policy?
If your life insurance policy lapses due to nonpayment of premiums, this will normally trigger a new 2 year contestability period once the policy is put back in force.
What happens after the 2 year contestability period?
Provided the premiums have been paid and the policy is still in force, the insurance company typically cannot contest a claim and will pay the agreed upon death benefit in full. Certain policies may have specific exclusions, such as death while committing a crime, but these are separate from the contestability period.
How can I prevent the insurance company from contesting?
Simple. Be truthful on your application. Work closely with a trusted independent life insurance professional. Be totally upfront and don’t neglect to mention any small detail.
The secret to finding the lowest rate is to apply at the company that views your unique situation in the best light. Because of this, it’s in your best interest anyways to be open with your broker so they can aggressively shop you to the right company.
Bottom Line: Be honest with your broker and on the application. You don’t want to risk the protection of your family to save a few dollars on monthly premiums.
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