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Understanding the Value of Life Insurance

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/21/2006 | Finance
When someone dies, there will typically be an identifiable financial loss. It might be the primary income for a family. Or, it might be the intrinsic value of the person who was responsible for the care of children or a feeble adult.

It could even be a company business associate who spearheaded the sales division or someone who took charge of its operation when senior management needed to be absent.

This is sometimes referred to as the human life value of the deceased party. The value itself is usually based on the future loss of income (i.e. salary or paycheck), the future cost of replacement (i.e. child caring or adult caregiver), or the immediate net loss to the company while it struggles to replace the key employee.

For many people, the loss of income is the primary reason to buy life insurance. Losing the paycheck of either deceased spouse will leave most families in a tenuous situation because this usually means their normal lifestyle becomes vulnerable to readjustment.

In the postwar fifties, the primary breadwinner was usually the father. Mother did the cooking and cleaning, while father went to the office. Mom was there when the kids came home from school. And Dad was working 9 to 5 in order to bring home the paycheck.

Today, of course, women participate equally in the workforce. While there continues to be a discrepancy in the amount of earned income between the sexes, nevertheless, the money Mom brings home is vital to the financial well-being of the family.

It is no secret that personal debt per capita in the U.S. is higher than ever. The latest data reveals we are in a negative savings posture, which is something that hasn't occurred since 1932. Any reduction in take home pay can potentially devastate literally hundreds of thousands of families.

This scenario is grim enough while both parties are alive. The reality of what happens at the death of either breadwinner is frightening to say the least.

Life insurance is an important financial asset. In fact, it should be the primary asset for families that might experience severe lifestyle disruptions in the event of someone's death.

Unfortunately, life insurance is frequently misunderstood by the very people it can help the most. One reason is because life insurance doesn't benefit the insured party, who is typically the person paying for the life insurance. After all, the insured party will be dead and unable to witness the undeniable family value of the death proceeds.

Ironically, the second reason for this misunderstanding is because some life insurance has a cash surrender value. This means if the owner of the policy decides to stop paying the premium an amount of cash is returned provided the death benefit is surrendered.

It's important to recognize there are only two types of life insurance: term and cash value. Term is always cheapest in the early years, but becomes prohibitively expensive when one reaches the age of 70, or thereabouts.

Of course, this is before the normal or expected time of death, so it is highly unlikely that a term policy will actually pay the death benefit unless, of course, one dies prematurely.

There are many types of cash value policies to include the classic whole life, universal life, variable life and universal variable life. The competitive marketplace has produced an overwhelming number of hybrids each one created for a specific reason that was initiated due to government intervention.

This article will not attempt to describe each type of policy. The important message here relates to the extraordinary value of life insurance itself... not any particular policy type.

Indeed, there are very few, if any recipients of a life insurance death claim that have asked an insurance agent what "type" of policy had been issued. The fact of the matter is the tax-free death proceeds provided a welcomed amount of cash at exactly the time when money was needed the most.

This, of course, is when the income of one of the breadwinners was unexpectedly and abruptly cut off from the family forever. The type of policy is not important to the survivors. The only thing of importance to the survivors is that the policy was actually in force at the time of death.