Joint and Survivorship Insurance: What You Need to Know

A joint insurance policy is one taken by two people, offering benefits that aren’t provided by single policies and allow you to save a few bucks in monthly premiums. If you’re married and want your spouse to receive a benefit if you die and your children to receive one if you both die, it seems like the best choice.

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But that isn’t necessarily the case. Joint life insurance policies certainly serve a purpose, but there are some major flaws to consider as well.

What is Joint and Survivorship Insurance?

There are two types of joint life insurance policies: First-to-die and Second-to-die. In both cases, these options are generally cheaper than a single life insurance policy that offers the same benefit. As a result, they’re often taken by married couples who only have each other and their children to consider.

For instance, if you’re married with two young children and all your death benefit will be paid to your spouse and then, if they die, to your children, it can seem like the best option. You’ll be offered cheaper premiums, you’ll get your wish, and at the same time, you’ll be covered if anything happens to your partner.

Perfect, right? Well, not quite, as there are some problems to consider.

First-to-Die

A first-to-die policy pays money to one policyholder when the other dies. If you have a $500,000 policy charging $100 a month, then you and your spouse are responsible for paying the $100 and if one of you dies, the obligations will end and the $500,000 will be released to the surviving spouse.

Pros and Cons of First-to-Die Insurance

This insurance policy seems like a win-win on the surface. Insurance companies can save money by acquiring two customers at once and reducing liabilities slightly, while the policyholders can get the benefits provided by two policyholders.

But what happens if you break up? These policies are often acquired by married couples in their 30s and can last for several decades. At that point, they may have spent anywhere from 5 to 15 years together and are assuming they will spend the next 30 or so years together as well. But the average marriage lasts for just 8 years and no matter how connected you feel today, there’s just no way of knowing that your relationship will last.

If anything does happen, all those premiums could be for nothing. The policy will still exist and if you keep making the payments, you’ll keep the death benefit alive. But if you remarry, you’ll likely want the money to go to your new partner and not your ex.

This is the biggest issue with these policies and it’s why many insurance experts don’t recommend them for young couples. If you had two policies, you could just as easily make your spouse the beneficiary and if the relationship ends, you could remove them from the contract and add the name of your new partner.

What’s more, there’s no guarantee that this policy will be cheaper than two separate policies. First-to-die policies are actually quite rare, which means the market isn’t very strong. When competition is weak, prices are high, and in many cases, you may struggle to find a joint policy that is cheaper than separate ones.

Finally, let’s assume that the applicants are in their thirties and one of them dies when they reach 50. The surviving spouse then collects the money and can live comfortably thereafter. But what about their children? What about their new partner, assuming they find one? That policy will have finished, which means the surviving policyholder now needs to pay for additional insurance if they want to remain covered. That can be tricky for a 50-year-old widower, as premiums will have increased significantly.

Second-to-Die

A survivorship policy, also known as a “second-to-die” policy, is more common than the option outlined above. It is frequently acquired by married couples who want to provide cover for their children, and it pays out only when both of them die.

Pros and Cons of Need Second-to-Die Insurance

A second-to-die life insurance policy has its uses. It’s often recommended to individuals with large and valuable estates, as it can give heirs money to cover inheritance taxes and other costs and allow them to better prepare for the transition. 

However, if you’re an average married couple without sizeable assets, it likely won’t provide the benefits you need. Firstly, the surviving spouse won’t be provided with a death benefit and will be tasked with continuing to pay insurance premiums every month. If they have any financial issues, not only will they struggle to stay in the black, but they may be forced to stop making those monthly payments, thus rendering all previous payments redundant.

On the plus side, second-to-die life insurance is often cheaper than purchasing separate life insurance policies. It’s also much easier to acquire, as the insurance company is insuring two people and not one, which greatly reduces their risk and means they are less concerned about health questions and medical exams.

It can also improve the value of your estate, which is important if you’re giving this away to one or more heirs. Again, though, we have to stress that the benefits may not be enough for the average married couple and they should instead look into separate life insurance policies.

Which Policy is Right for You?

With all things considered, how do you know which policy is right for you?

Multiple options and several factors to consider, but it’s actually quite simple. Unless you have a large estate, you should look into getting separate life insurance policies for both you and your spouse. You can make each other the main beneficiaries and then add the names of your children just in case you both die at the same time.

If you have a large estate and your spouse will not be left financially destitute in the event of your demise, second-to-die life insurance should be considered. 

With all options, however, you can get quotes, compare the premiums, payouts, and benefits, and then see which one stands out the most. 

Look into term-life insurance, whole-life insurance, and accidental death insurance when considering an individual policy, as they all provide something a little different and both the costs and cover varies greatly.