Policy Owner

What is a policy owner.

The policy owner is the person who buys and owns an insurance policy. That individual may be the insured , meaning they bought life insurance on themselves, but people can also take out life insurance policies on others. In those cases, the policy owner and the insured are two different people.

The policy owner vs. the insured

To clarify these two potentially distinct roles, it helps to first understand who, exactly, is the insured.

When it comes to life insurance, the insured is the individual whose death will trigger the life insurance company to pay out the policy’s death benefit to the beneficiaries.

In many cases, the insured and the policy owner are one and the same. You might buy a life insurance policy for yourself — making you both the policy owner and the insured — and name your partner as the beneficiary to leave them with money after you’re gone, for example.

But life insurance companies don’t specify that people can only buy life insurance for themselves. They also allow others to buy a policy — making them the policy owner — on another individual, the insured.

In that case, the policy owner has all the control over the policy. The insured doesn’t have the authority to make any decisions on the policy. In fact, if they want any changes made, they will have to ask the policy owner to handle them.

Policy owner rights

The policy owner is the individual who gets control over and responsibility for the life insurance policy. That means they’re the one who needs to pay the premiums to keep the policy active, but they’re also the person who can make changes to the policy — or even terminate it.

If the policy owner buys permanent life insurance , they also get the benefits of the policy’s cash value component.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the policy owner gets to choose the beneficiary, or the person, people, or entity that will get the death benefit when the insured passes away. If the policy owner is not the insured, the policy owner can name themselves as the beneficiary. That means they will get the policy’s death benefit when the insured dies.

When policy owners aren’t the insured

Why would someone buy life insurance on someone else? Usually, it’s because that other person’s death has the potential to negatively affect their financial wellbeing.

A stay-at-home spouse might buy life insurance on their breadwinning partner, for example. Or a business co-owner might buy a policy on their business partner.

You can’t buy life insurance on just anyone, though. Insurance companies generally require the insured’s consent, plus one other thing: insurable interest .

You have an insurable interest in someone when their death could cause financial challenges for you, as is the case with the spouse or business partner. You don’t have an insurable interest in, say, a random celebrity, though. Insurance companies will only issue policies to individuals when they can show that their financial fate is tied to the person on whom they want to take out the life insurance policy.

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Understanding Life Insurance Policy Ownership

By actec fellows lawrence brody and jonathan w. michael, watch next video: life insurance policies and estate planning.

Hello, my name is Jonathan W. Michael . I’m an ACTEC Fellow in Chicago and today I’m here with Larry Brody , an ACTEC Fellow in St. Louis. Hi, Larry. How are you?

Hey, Jonathan. I’m fine. How are you?

I’m doing great. Larry, thank you for joining us. Today, I guess your topic is choices of life insurance policy ownership. So, right off the top, who’s available as the owner of a life insurance policy?

I think probably the way to begin this is to remind people that there are a number of individuals involved in any life insurance policy. The first person, if you will, is the insured, whose life is being insured. That’s the person that has to take the physical to get the policy. That’s usually the person who’s going to pay the premium. And every life insurance policy has a named insured. Some life insurance policies insure two insureds, usually husband and wife, payable only at the death of the survivor. So, you can have a single life insured or you can have multiple lives insured, but every policy has an insured or insureds.

The other person involved in a life insurance policy is the owner of the policy. There are a number of choices for who can own a policy but every policy has an owner. The owner is the person who has control of the policy during the insured’s lifetime. They have the power, if they want, to surrender the policy, to sell the policy, to gift the policy, to change the policy death benefit beneficiary . They have absolute control over the policy during the insured’s lifetime. And the third person involved in the insurance policy is the beneficiary. That’s the person, sometimes an entity like a corporation or a partnership or a trust, that’s entitled to receive the death proceeds of the policy at the death of the insured.

So, all life insurance policies have three people involved, three categories of people. Sometimes the categories overlap, as we’ll talk about. But there are usually three people involved in policy: the insured, the owner, and a beneficiary.

So, Larry, maybe you can talk a little bit about the different owners? So, one, might be the insured?

Yeah, the first person people think about as the policy owner is the insured. It’s the simplest way to do it. So, in this case, there’d be only two people involved in the policy because the insured and the owner would be the same. There’d still be a beneficiary but there wouldn’t be a separate owner from the insured. My sense is, most life insurance policies are owned by the insured. The insured’s the one whose life is insured. They're the one who are paying the premium and, in general, I think, they want to control the policy. They want to make the decisions about the policy. If the policy has investment choices, they want to make those choices. They want to have the right to change the beneficiary. So, if I own the policy on my life, I’m both the insured and the owner, I name my son as the beneficiary. If, at some point, my son and I have a falling out I have the right to change the beneficiary. Right? I have full control.

The next possible owner, in no special order, is my spouse. So, in that case, there would be three people involved. I’d be the insured. She’d be the owner, and she might be the beneficiary, or she might name our son as the beneficiary. Again, she would have full control over the policy and, as the insured, I’d have to be willing to have her do that. Some insureds are comfortable with that. Some insureds are not. And again, it may depend upon the relationship between the spouses.

Again, some insureds are control freaks. If they're paying the premium, they want to own the policy. Other insureds might be more comfortable with their spouse owning the policy. One advantage of having the spouse own the policy, for instance, is if the insured is worried about creditor problems having the policy owned by the spouse ought to solve that for the insured.

But could you have your children as an owner?

Sure. Yes, you could certainly have adult, responsible children as the owner of the policy. In that case, again, there might be three people. There might be two people. I’d be the insured. My son would be the owner. He might be the beneficiary. He might name someone else as the beneficiary, but generally he would name himself as the beneficiary. It’s fairly easy with one child. If I have three children, for instance, if I make all three of them owners of the policy, no one child can do anything without the other two. It takes, in my case, three to tango. All decisions have to be unanimous.

So, if two of the children want to cash in the policy and the third one doesn’t, you can’t cash it in. You have two that want to change the beneficiary and the third one doesn't; you can’t change the beneficiary. In that case, we sometimes suggest the insured create some entity, like an LLC or a general partnership, name one of the children as the manager to give that child control over the policy, even though, at death, again, all three children would be the beneficiaries.

How about this thing that’s called an irrevocable life insurance trust? I know that you know what that is. Can you explain to our listeners what is an irrevocable life insurance trust and when might it be the owner?

There are irrevocable life insurance trusts. They are generally created by wealthy insureds to own a policy on their lives where the trust would be the beneficiary. So, in this case, again, there’d be two people involved. I’m the insured. My insurance trust, with someone else as the trustee, is both the owner and the beneficiary of the policy. They're generally created by wealthy clients who think they're going to have a federal estate tax problem at their death because their estates are large enough. The benefit of having the policy owned by an irrevocable insurance trust is, first of all, again, it’s not subject to claims of my creditors anymore.

I can also keep the trust going for my beneficiary, so if I have a child who’s a spendthrift, if I make my child the owner of the policy and he’s the beneficiary, he gets the insurance company check. He can do whatever he wants with it. If my trust gets it with a trustee I trust, they will hold the proceeds for him and perhaps just directly pay his bills. But the real incentive for an irrevocable insurance trust, again, is to keep the policy death proceeds out of the insured’s estate for federal estate tax purposes. Because the rule for federal estate tax purposes is, again, if the client’s estate is large enough, if the insured owns the policy, you count the death benefit of the policy as a part of the value of his estate on which we have an estate tax.

If it’s an irrevocable insurance trust and it’s been there for more than three years after I created the trust and put the policy in, the policy proceeds are not subject to the federal estate tax, which is generally the incentive for creating an irrevocable insurance trust. They're complex they're expensive, and they're really only for high-net-worth people.

But it seems like there's a lot of choices out there in terms of not only who can be the owner, but then also who can be the beneficiary and who the other parties are in respect to these policies?

Yes. And again, I think that’s part of the job of the insurance agent: to make clear to the proposed insured what the choices are for ownership and what the advantages and disadvantages of each one are. And everybody will have a different view of who ought to be the owner of the policy . I would guess offhand that most policies are owned by the insured, but they're not the only choice.

All right. Well, thank you, Larry. This has been very helpful. Thank you for leading the discussion on choices of life insurance policy ownership. Have a great day.

Thanks, Jonathan.

You may also be interested in The Basics of Fiduciary Income Taxation and Life Insurance Policies and Estate Planning


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What Does Policyholder Mean in the Insurance World?

All insurance policies have a policyholder. A policyholder is the person who has purchased and owns an insurance policy. 

Simple, right? But don’t click away yet! There are a few more important details you need to know.

Who is the policyholder on an insurance policy?

If you purchased a policy from an insurance provider, that makes you the policyholder. But what exactly comes with the job?

For starters, as the policyholder, you’re responsible for paying the premium. This is the monthly cost the provider charges for their insurance policies. Your name is on the account, so you’ll be the one getting the bill. But that also means you have control over the policy. You’re the only one who can alter it by changing the beneficiaries or adding insured individuals, for example.

Policyholder vs. insured: Who is “the insured”?

“Insured” refers to anyone covered under an insurance policy. As the policyholder, you almost always fall into this category.

With many types of coverage, “insured” can also include your immediate family members. Spouses, children, and parents are often covered by default under auto insurance, renters insurance, and homeowners insurance. However, there are a few unique situations to be aware of: 

Life insurance : Often, the policyholder is also the insured. However, many people take out a life insurance policy to cover a loved one. For example, Alex may purchase a life insurance policy for his husband, Greg, who would be listed as the insured. As the policyholder, Alex would still retain control over the policy.

Auto insurance: A car insurance policy often covers the passengers in your vehicle while you’re driving. It won’t protect drivers who aren’t on the same policy. As the policyholder, you can add additional drivers (although, most providers will charge a fee per driver).

Renters insurance: Renters insurance typically only covers the policyholder and their immediate family living under the same roof. Roommates don’t count as insureds, meaning they would need to be added to the policy — likely for a fee — or purchase their own plans.

Homeowners insurance: If you own property with another person — say, your spouse — you can both be listed as the policyholder for homeowners insurance.

Who is the policyholder on group insurance plans?

If you enroll in insurance through your employer, your employer may be considered the ultimate policyholder, while you are the "insured."

Policyholder vs. insurance subscriber

An insurance subscriber is more or less the same as a policyholder. Insurance subscribers are the ones paying for the policy's premiums, or the person whose employer provides the policy as a benefit. You’ll often see “subscriber” used on insurance cards.

Policyholder vs. beneficiary

A beneficiary is an individual who receives the death benefit of a life insurance policy. They may or may not also be the policyholder. A single life insurance policy can have multiple beneficiaries — but only one policyholder.

Referring to our previous example, Alex would be both the policyholder and beneficiary of Greg’s life insurance. Alex could add more beneficiaries, such as their child Abbot.

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What Is Life Insurance?

Types of life insurance, top-rated companies to compare, term vs. permanent life insurance, what affects your life insurance premiums and costs, life insurance buying guide, benefits of life insurance, who needs life insurance, considerations before buying life insurance, how life insurance works, life insurance riders and policy changes, qualifying for life insurance.

  • Life Insurance

Life Insurance: What It Is, How It Works, and How To Buy a Policy

Amy Fontinelle has more than 15 years of experience covering personal finance, corporate finance and investing.

insurance company policy owner

Life insurance is a contract between a life insurance company and a policy owner. A life insurance policy guarantees the insurer pays a sum of money to one or more named beneficiaries when the insured person dies in exchange for premiums paid by the policyholder during their lifetime.

Key Takeaways

  • Life insurance is a legally binding contract that pays a death benefit to the policy owner when the insured person dies.
  • For a life insurance policy to remain in force, the policyholder must pay a single premium upfront or pay regular premiums over time.
  • When the insured person dies, the policy’s named beneficiaries will receive the policy’s face value, or death benefit.
  • Term life insurance policies expire after a certain number of years. Permanent life insurance policies remain active until the insured dies, stops paying premiums, or surrenders the policy.
  • A life insurance policy is only as good as the financial strength of the life insurance company that issues it. State guaranty funds may pay claims if the issuer can’t.

Investopedia / Theresa Chiechi

Many different types of life insurance are available to meet all sorts of needs and preferences. Depending on the short- or long-term needs of the person to be insured, the major choice of whether to select temporary or permanent life insurance is important to consider.

Term life insurance

Term life insurance is designed to last a certain number of years, then end. You choose the term when you take out the policy. Common terms are 10, 20, or 30 years. The best term life insurance policies balance affordability with long-term financial strength.

  • Decreasing term life insurance is renewable term life insurance with coverage decreasing over the life of the policy at a predetermined rate.
  • Convertible term life insurance allows policyholders to convert a term policy to permanent insurance.
  • Renewable term life insurance provides a quote for the year the policy is purchased. Premiums increase annually and are usually the least expensive term insurance in the beginning.

Many term life insurance policies allow you to renew the contract on an annual basis once the term is up. This is one way to extend your life insurance coverage but since the renewal rate is based on your current age, premiums can rise precipitously each year. A better solution for permanent coverage is to convert your term life insurance policy into a permanent policy. This is not an option on all term life policies; look for a convertible term policy if this is important to you.

Permanent Life Insurance

Permanent life insurance stays in force for the insured’s entire life unless the policyholder stops paying the premiums or surrenders the policy. It’s more expensive than term.

  • Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance. It accumulates a cash value in order to last the lifetime of the insured person. Cash-value life insurance also allows the policyholder to use the cash value for many purposes, such as a source of loans or cash or to pay policy premiums.
  • Universal life (UL) insurance is a type of permanent life insurance with a cash value component that earns interest. Universal life features flexible premiums. Unlike term and whole life, the premiums can be adjusted over time and designed with a level death benefit or an increasing death benefit.
  • Indexed universal life (IUL) is a type of universal life insurance that lets the policyholder earn a fixed or equity-indexed rate of return on the cash value component.
  • Variable universal life (VUL) insurance allows the policyholder to invest the policy’s cash value in an available separate account. It also has flexible premiums and can be designed with a level death benefit or an increasing death benefit.

When shopping for insurance, you might want to start with our list of the best life insurance companies, some of which are listed below.

Term life insurance differs from permanent life insurance in several ways but tends to best meet the needs of most people looking for affordable life insurance coverage. Term life insurance only lasts for a set period of time and pays a death benefit should the policyholder die before the term has expired. Permanent life insurance stays in effect as long as the policyholder pays the premium. Another critical difference involves premiums—term life is generally much less expensive than permanent life because it does not involve building a cash value.

Before you apply for life insurance, you should analyze your financial situation and determine how much money would be required to maintain your beneficiaries’ standard of living or meet the need for which you’re purchasing a policy. Also, consider how long you'll need coverage for.

For example, if you are the primary caretaker and have children 2 and 4 years old, you would want enough insurance to cover your custodial responsibilities until your children are grown up and able to support themselves.

You might research the cost of hiring a nanny and a housekeeper or using commercial child care and cleaning services, then perhaps add money for education. Include any outstanding mortgage and retirement needs for your spouse in your life insurance calculation. Especially if the spouse earns significantly less or is a stay-at-home parent. Add up what these costs would be over the next 16 or so years, add more for inflation, and that’s the death benefit you might want to buy—if you can afford it.

Burial or final expense insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that has a small death benefit. Despite the names, beneficiaries can use the death benefit as they wish.

Many factors can affect the cost of life insurance premiums . Certain things may be beyond your control, but other criteria can be managed to potentially bring down the cost before (and even after) applying. Your health and age are the most important factors that determine cost, so buying life insurance as soon as you need it is often the best course of action.

After being approved for an insurance policy, if your health has improved and you’ve made positive lifestyle changes, you can request to be considered for a change in risk class. Even if it is found that you’re in poorer health than at the initial underwriting , your premiums will not go up. If you’re found to be in better health, then you your premiums may decrease. You may also be able to buy additional coverage at a lower rate than you initially did.

Investopedia / Lara Antal

Step 1: Determine How Much You Need

Think about what expenses would need to be covered in the event of your death. Things like mortgage, college tuition, and other debts, not to mention funeral expenses. Plus, income replacement is a major factor if your spouse or loved ones need cash flow and are not able to provide it on their own.

There are helpful tools online to calculate the lump sum that can satisfy any potential expenses that would need to be covered.

Step 2: Prepare Your Application

Life insurance applications generally require personal and family medical history and beneficiary information. You may need to take a medical exam and will need to disclose any preexisting medical conditions, history of moving violations, DUIs, and any dangerous hobbies, such as auto racing or skydiving. The following are crucial elements of most life insurance applications:

  • Age: This is the most important factor because life expectancy is the biggest determinant of risk for the insurance company.
  • Gender: Because women statistically live longer, they generally pay lower rates than males of the same age.
  • Smoking: A person who smokes is at risk for many health issues that could shorten life and increase risk-based premiums.
  • Health: Medical exams for most policies include screening for health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and related medical metrics that can indicate risk.
  • Lifestyle : Dangerous lifestyles can make premiums much more expensive.
  • Family medical history: If you have evidence of major disease in your immediate family, your risk of developing certain conditions is much higher.
  • Driving record: A history of moving violations or drunk driving can dramatically increase the cost of insurance premiums.

Standard forms of identification will also be needed before a policy can be written, such as your Social Security card, driver's license, or U.S. passport.

Step 3: Compare Policy Quotes

When you've assembled all of your necessary information, you can gather multiple life insurance quotes from different providers based on your research. Prices can differ markedly from company to company, so it's important to take the effort to find the best combination of policy, company rating, and premium cost. Because life insurance is something you will likely pay monthly for decades, it can save an enormous amount of money to find the best policy to fit your needs.

Our lineup of the best life insurance companies can give you a jump start on your research. It lists the companies we've found to be the best for different types of needs, based on our research of nearly 100 carriers.

There are many benefits to having life insurance . Below are some of the most important features and protections offered by life insurance policies.

Most people use life insurance to provide money to beneficiaries who would suffer a financial hardship upon the insured’s death. However, for wealthy individuals, the tax advantages of life insurance, including the tax-deferred growth of cash value, tax-free dividends, and tax-free death benefits, can provide additional strategic opportunities.

Avoiding Taxes

The death benefit of a life insurance policy is usually tax-free. Wealthy individuals sometimes buy permanent life insurance within a trust to pay estate taxes . This strategy helps to preserve the value of the estate for their heirs.

Tax avoidance is a law-abiding strategy for minimizing one’s tax liability and should not be confused with tax evasion , which is illegal.

Life insurance provides financial support to surviving dependents or other beneficiaries after the death of an insured policyholder. Here are some examples of people who may need life insurance:

  • Parents with minor children. If a parent dies, the loss of their income or caregiving skills could create a financial hardship. Life insurance can make sure the kids will have the financial resources they need until they can support themselves.
  • Parents with special-needs adult children. For children who require lifelong care and will never be self-sufficient, life insurance can make sure their needs will be met after their parents pass away. The death benefit can be used to fund a special needs trust that a fiduciary will manage for the adult child’s benefit.
  • Adults who own property together. Married or not, if the death of one adult would mean that the other could no longer afford loan payments, upkeep, and taxes on the property, life insurance may be a good idea. One example would be an engaged couple who take out a joint mortgage to buy their first house.
  • Seniors who want to leave money to adult children who provide their care. Many adult children sacrifice time at work to care for an elderly parent who needs help. This help may also include direct financial support. Life insurance can help reimburse the adult child’s costs when the parent passes away.
  • Young adults whose parents incurred private student loan debt or cosigned a loan for them. Young adults without dependents rarely need life insurance, but if a parent will be on the hook for a child’s debt after their death, the child may want to carry enough life insurance to pay off that debt.
  • Children or young adults who want to lock in low rates. The younger and healthier you are , the lower your insurance premiums. A 20-something adult might buy a policy even without having dependents if there is an expectation to have them in the future.
  • Stay-at-home spouses. Stay-at-home spouses should have life insurance as they have significant economic value based on the work they do in the home. According to Salary.com, the economic value of a stay-at-home parent would have been equivalent to an annual salary of $162,581 in 2018.
  • Wealthy families who expect to owe estate taxes. Life insurance can provide funds to cover the taxes and keep the full value of the estate intact.
  • Families who can ’ t afford burial and funeral expenses. A small life insurance policy can provide funds to honor a loved one’s passing.
  • Businesses with key employees. If the death of a key employee, such as a CEO, would create a severe financial hardship for a firm, that firm may have an insurable interest that will allow it to purchase a life insurance policy on that employee .
  • Married pensioners. Instead of choosing between a pension payout that offers a spousal benefit and one that doesn’t, pensioners can choose to accept their full pension and use some of the money to buy life insurance to benefit their spouse. This strategy is called pension maximization .
  • Those with preexisting conditions. Such as cancer, diabetes, or smoking. Note, however, that some insurers may deny coverage for such individuals, or else charge very high rates.

Each policy is unique to the insured and insurer. It’s important to review your policy document to understand what risks your policy covers, how much it will pay your beneficiaries, and under what circumstances.

Research Policy Options and Company Reviews

Because life insurance policies are a major expense and commitment, it's critical to do proper due diligence to make sure the company you choose has a solid track record and financial strength, given that your heirs may not receive any death benefit for many decades into the future. Investopedia has evaluated scores of companies that offer all different types of insurance and rated the best in numerous categories.

Consider How Much Death Benefit You Need

Life insurance can be a prudent financial tool to hedge your bets and provide protection for your loved ones in case of death should you die while the policy is in force. However, there are situations in which it makes less sense —such as buying too much or insuring those whose income doesn't need to be replaced. So it's important to consider the following.

What expenses couldn't be met if you died? If your spouse has a high income and you don't have any children, maybe it's not warranted. It is still essential to consider the impact of your potential death on a spouse and consider how much financial support they would need to grieve without worrying about returning to work before they’re ready. However, if both spouses' income is necessary to maintain a desired lifestyle or meet financial commitments, then both spouses may need separate life insurance coverage.

Know Why You're Buying Life Insurance

If you're buying a policy on another family member's life, it's important to ask—what are you trying to insure? Children and seniors really don't have any meaningful income to replace, but burial expenses may need to be covered in the event of their death. Beyond burial expenses, a parent may also want to protect their child’s future insurability by purchasing a moderate-sized policy when they are young. Doing so allows that parent to ensure that their child can financially protect their future family. Parents are only allowed to purchase life insurance for their children up to 25% of the in-force policy on their own lives.

Could investing the money that would be paid in premiums for permanent insurance throughout a policy earn a better return over time? As a hedge against uncertainty, consistent saving and investing—for example, self-insuring—might make more sense in some cases if a significant income doesn't need to be replaced or if policy investment returns on cash value are overly conservative.

A life insurance policy has two main components—a death benefit and a premium. Term life insurance has these two components, but permanent or whole life insurance policies also have a cash value component.

  • Death benefit. The death benefit  or face value is the amount of money the insurance company guarantees to the beneficiaries identified in the policy when the insured dies. The insured might be a parent, and the beneficiaries might be their children, for example. The insured will choose the desired death benefit amount based on the beneficiaries’ estimated future needs. The insurance company will determine whether there is an insurable interest and if the proposed insured qualifies for the coverage based on the company’s underwriting requirements related to age, health, and any hazardous activities in which the proposed insured participates.
  • Premium. Premiums are the money the policyholder pays for insurance. The insurer must pay the death benefit when the insured dies if the policyholder pays the premiums as required, and premiums are determined in part by how likely it is that the insurer will have to pay the policy’s death benefit based on the insured’s life expectancy. Factors that influence life expectancy include the insured’s age, gender, medical history, occupational hazards, and high-risk hobbies. Part of the premium also goes toward the insurance company’s operating expenses. Premiums are higher on policies with larger death benefits, individuals who are at higher risk, and permanent policies that accumulate cash value.
  • Cash Value. The cash value of permanent life insurance serves two purposes. It is a savings account that the policyholder can use during the life of the insured; the cash accumulates on a tax-deferred basis. Some policies may have restrictions on withdrawals depending on how the money is to be used. For example, the policyholder might take out a loan against the policy’s cash value and have to pay interest on the loan principal. The policyholder can also use the cash value to pay premiums or purchase additional insurance. The cash value is a living benefit that remains with the insurance company when the insured dies. Any outstanding loans against the cash value will reduce the policy’s death benefit.

Good to Know

The policy owner and the insured are usually the same person, but sometimes they may be different. For example, a business might buy key person insurance on a crucial employee such as a CEO, or an insured might sell their own policy to a third party for cash in a life settlement .

Many insurance companies offer policyholders the option to customize their policies to accommodate their needs.  Riders are the most common way policyholders may modify or change their plans. There are many riders, but availability depends on the provider. The policyholder will typically pay an additional premium for each rider or a fee to exercise the rider, though some policies include certain riders in their base premium.

  • The accidental death benefit rider provides additional life insurance coverage in the event the insured’s death is accidental.
  • The waiver of premium rider relieves the policyholder of making premium payments if the insured becomes disabled and unable to work.
  • The disability income rider pays a monthly income in the event the policyholder becomes unable to work for several months or longer due to a serious illness or injury.
  • Upon diagnosis of terminal illness, the  accelerated death benefit rider allows the insured to collect a portion or all of the death benefit.
  • The long-term care rider is a type of accelerated death benefit that can be used to pay for nursing-home, assisted-living, or in-home care when the insured requires help with activities of daily living, such as bathing, eating, and using the toilet.
  • A guaranteed insurability rider lets the policyholder buy additional insurance at a later date without a medical review.

Borrowing Money. Most permanent life insurance accumulates cash value that the policyholder can borrow against. Technically, you are borrowing money from the insurance company and using your cash value as collateral. Unlike with other types of loans, the policyholder’s credit score is not a factor. Repayment terms can be flexible, and the loan interest goes back into the policyholder’s cash value account. Policy loans can reduce the policy’s death benefit, however.

Funding Retirement. Policies with a cash value or investment component can provide a source of retirement income. This opportunity can come with high fees and a lower death benefit, so it may only be a good option for individuals who have maxed out other tax-advantaged savings and investment accounts. The pension maximization strategy described earlier is another way life insurance can fund retirement.

It’s prudent to reevaluate your life insurance needs annually or after significant life events, such as divorce , marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, or major purchases, such as a house. You may need to update the policy’s beneficiaries, increase your coverage, or even reduce your coverage.

Insurers evaluate each life insurance applicant on a case-by-case basis, and with hundreds of insurers to choose from, almost anyone can find an affordable policy that at least partially meets their needs. In 2018 there were 841 life insurance and annuity companies in the United States, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

On top of that, many life insurance companies sell multiple types and sizes of policies, and some specialize in meeting specific needs, such as policies for people with chronic health conditions. There are also brokers who specialize in life insurance and know what different companies offer. Applicants can work with a broker free of charge to find the insurance they need. This means that almost anyone can get some type of life insurance policy if they look hard enough and are willing to pay a high enough price or accept a perhaps less-than-ideal death benefit.

Insurance is not just for the healthy and wealthy, and because the insurance industry is much broader than many consumers realize, getting life insurance may be possible and affordable even if previous applications have been denied or quotes have been unaffordable.

In general, the younger and healthier you are, the easier it will be to qualify for life insurance, and the older and less healthy you are, the harder it will be. Certain lifestyle choices, such as using tobacco or engaging in risky hobbies such as skydiving, also make it harder to qualify or lead to higher rates.

You need life insurance if you need to provide security for a spouse, children, or other family members in the event of your death. Life insurance death benefits, depending on the policy amount, can help beneficiaries pay off a mortgage, cover college tuition, or help fund retirement. Permanent life insurance also features a cash value component that builds over time.

What Affects Your Life Insurance Premiums?

  • Age (life insurance is less expensive)
  • Gender (female tends to be less expensive)
  • Smoking (smoking increases premiums)
  • Health (poor health can raise premiums)
  • Lifestyle (risky activities can increase premiums)
  • Family medical history (chronic illness in relatives can raise premiums)
  • Driving record (good drivers save on premiums)

What Are the Benefits of Life Insurance?

  • Payouts are tax-free. Life insurance death benefits are paid as a lump sum and are not subject to federal income tax because they are not considered income for beneficiaries.
  • Dependents don't have to worry about living expenses. Most policy calculators recommend a multiple of your gross income equal to seven to 10 years that can cover major expenses like mortgages and college tuition without the surviving spouse or children having to take out loans.
  • Final expenses can be covered. Funeral expenses can be significant and can be avoided with a burial policy or with standard term or permanent life policies.
  • Policies can supplement retirement savings. Permanent life policies such as whole, universal, and variable life insurance can offer cash value in addition to death benefits, which can augment other savings in retirement.

How Do You Qualify for Life Insurance?

To qualify for life insurance, you need to submit an application. But life insurance is available to almost anyone. However, the cost or premium level can vary greatly based on your age, health, and lifestyle. Some types of life insurance don't require medical information but generally have much higher premiums and involve an initial waiting period before the death benefit is available.

How Does Life Insurance Work?

Life insurance works by providing a death benefit in exchange for paying premiums. One popular type of life insurance—term life insurance—only lasts for a set amount of time, such as 10 or 20 years. Permanent life insurance also features a death benefit but lasts for the life of the policyholder as long as premiums are paid.

We publish unbiased product reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payments we receive from our advertising partners. Learn more  about how we review products  and read our  advertiser disclosure  for how we make money. And see our complete list of the best companies for different types of policies.

Insurance Information Institute. " What are the Different Types of Term Life Insurance Policies? "

Allstate. " What Is Variable Universal Life Insurance? "

Insurance Information Institute. " What are the Different Types of Permanent Life Insurance Policies? "

Internal Revenue Service. " Life Insurance & Disability Insurance Proceeds ."

Social Security Administration. " Liens, Adjustments and Recoveries, and Transfers of Assets ."

NAIC. " Life Insurance ."

Insurance Information Institute. " Facts + Statistics: Industry Overview ."

  • How to Get Life Insurance 1 of 41
  • Life Insurance: What It Is, How It Works, and How To Buy a Policy 2 of 41
  • When Should You Get Life Insurance? 3 of 41
  • How Age Affects Life Insurance Rates 4 of 41
  • Is Life Insurance Worth It? 5 of 41
  • What to Expect When Applying for Life Insurance 6 of 41
  • Universal Life Insurance vs. Whole Life 7 of 41
  • 12 Best Life Insurance Companies of November 2023 8 of 41
  • Term Life Insurance: What It Is, Different Types, Pros and Cons 9 of 41
  • What Is Term Insurance? How Does It Work, and What Are the Types? 10 of 41
  • Group Term Life Insurance: What It Is, How It Works, Pros & Cons 11 of 41
  • Best Term Life Insurance Companies of November 2023 12 of 41
  • Permanent Life Insurance: Definition, Types, and Difference from Term Life 13 of 41
  • What Is Cash Value in Life Insurance? Explanation With Example 14 of 41
  • Whole Life Insurance Definition: How It Works, With Examples 15 of 41
  • Best Whole Life Insurance Companies of November 2023 16 of 41
  • What Is Universal Life (UL) Insurance? 17 of 41
  • Variable Universal Life (VUL) Insurance: What It Is, How It Works 18 of 41
  • What Is Indexed Universal Life Insurance (IUL)? 19 of 41
  • Paid-Up Additional Insurance: Definition and the Role of Dividends 20 of 41
  • Adjustable Life Insurance: Definition, Pros & Cons, vs. Universal 21 of 41
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  • Final Expense Insurance: What it is, Who Needs it, Pros and Cons 23 of 41
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  • Accelerated Benefit Riders: How They Work 26 of 41
  • Dread Disease Rider: What it is, How it Works 27 of 41
  • Family Income Rider: What It Is, How It Works 28 of 41
  • Are Return of Premium Riders Worth It? 29 of 41
  • Waiver of Premium Rider: Definition, Purpose, Benefits, and Cost 30 of 41
  • Long-Term Care Rider: What it is, How it Works 31 of 41
  • How Can I Borrow Money From My Life Insurance Policy? 32 of 41
  • Cashing in Your Life Insurance Policy 33 of 41
  • What Is Cash Surrender Value? How It Compares to Cash Value 34 of 41
  • Cash Value vs. Surrender Value: What's the Difference? 35 of 41
  • IRA vs. Life Insurance for Retirement Saving: What's the Difference? 36 of 41
  • How Does Life Insurance Work? 37 of 41
  • Understanding Taxes on Life Insurance Premiums 38 of 41
  • What Are the Tax Implications of a Life Insurance Policy Loan? 39 of 41
  • What Is a 1035 Exchange? Definition and How the Rules Work 40 of 41
  • Do Beneficiaries Pay Taxes on Life Insurance? 41 of 41

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What is Policy Ownership?

What is Policy Ownership?

by AdviceFirst | Oct 3, 2021 | Insurance Advice

The ownership of a life insurance policy may seem like a straightforward matter, but there are actually several different types of policy ownership. Each policy ownership has its own risks and benefits, whichever one your policy falls under, your insurer needs to follow the associated laws.

Changes in policy ownership are possible, but there is a potentially difficult and lengthy legal process involved, so it’s best to make sure your policy ownership is structured smartly in the beginning. In this article, AdviceFirst adviser Shane Gibson explains the different policy ownership options, their benefits, and any risks or other considerations.

“Anyone who owns a life insurance policy is responsible for it – they need to keep the policy valid by paying the premiums, they decide who payment claims go to, and they make decisions about changes or cancellation,” says Shane. “When discussing ownership, it’s important to realise that an owner is not necessarily the person covered by the policy. The covered individual is referred to as the “life assured,” and they only have the authority to make decisions about the policy if they are also the owner.”

The life assured person can’t cancel cover on their own life without the permission of the policy owner, unless they are also the legal owners of the policy. The family, friends or business associates of the policy owner or life assured also have no decision-making power.

Owning Your Own Policy

Being the sole owner of a policy as well as the only life assured is a common structure. This setup means if you have life cover and you pass away, the money goes to your estate. Having a will means the money is distributed according to that, otherwise it is handled by an administrator. This differs from cover like trauma or income protection, where claim money is paid to the person or entity you advise the insurance company to pay it to.

“This structure gives you complete control over ownership rights, meaning you can do whatever you want with the policy at any time. However, it’s important to realise life cover will be paid into your estate, which can lead to administrative delays,” says Shane.

Sole Ownership of Someone Else’s Policy

As mentioned earlier, policies can be owned by someone other than the life assured, such as a spouse owning their partner’s life insurance policy. When the life assured passes, money is paid directly to the policy owner. “A risk to this setup is that the owner may pass before the life assured,” says Shane. “In these cases, ownership doesn’t automatically pass to the life assured, which can lead to complications.”

Joint Ownership

There isn’t a limit to how many people can be joint owners of a policy, but often these types of policy are owned by business partners or spouses. All decisions related to the policy must be agreed upon by all the owners, and if one passes away that control passes to the remaining owners.

Proceeds from claims that result from the death of an individual joint owner who is also a life assured are paid according to the surviving owners’ instructions.

“If the relationship between owners breaks down for any reason, this can complicate the process of making policy decisions. Since all owners need to agree, it may lead to decisions simply not being made, and money passing to an owner even if the relationship ended long before the claim was made,” says Shane.

Company-owned Policy

Policies can also be owned by a company, and often means the life assured plays a key business role. In this case, the company decides where any claims are paid. There is a risk of the life assured leaving the business and being unable to have their cover cancelled, but it is rare that a company would want to keep paying insurance premiums for an individual no longer working for them.

So what about trusts?

“In most cases a trust cannot own a life insurance policy, unless it is structured as an incorporated business. Trusts generally put together a document which outlines what trustees need to do with the policy. Insurance companies aren’t responsible for enforcing such documents, they only follow the policy owners’ instructions,” says Shane.

In summary, policy owners have all the authority when it comes to making decisions. It’s vital that you have your insurance policy ownership set up in a way that works for you, and that you review it periodically. For more information, contact an AdviceFirst adviser on 0800 438 238 or [email protected] .

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At Bankrate, we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. To help readers understand how insurance affects their finances, we have licensed insurance professionals on staff who have spent a combined 47 years in the auto, home and life insurance industries. While we adhere to strict editorial integrity , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation of how we make money . Our content is backed by Coverage.com, LLC, a licensed entity (NPN: 19966249). For more information, please see our Insurance Disclosure .

Founded in 1976, Bankrate has a long track record of helping people make smart financial choices. We’ve maintained this reputation for over four decades by demystifying the financial decision-making process and giving people confidence in which actions to take next.

Bankrate follows a strict editorial policy , so you can trust that we’re putting your interests first. All of our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts , who ensure everything we publish is objective, accurate and trustworthy.

Our insurance team is composed of agents, data analysts, and customers like you. They focus on the points consumers care about most — price, customer service, policy features and savings opportunities — so you can feel confident about which provider is right for you.

  • We guide you throughout your search and help you understand your coverage options.
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All providers discussed on our site are vetted based on the value they provide. And we constantly review our criteria to ensure we’re putting accuracy first.

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Bankrate.com is an independent, advertising-supported publisher and comparison service. We are compensated in exchange for placement of sponsored products and services, or by you clicking on certain links posted on our site. Therefore, this compensation may impact how, where and in what order products appear within listing categories, except where prohibited by law for our mortgage, home equity and other home lending products. Other factors, such as our own proprietary website rules and whether a product is offered in your area or at your self-selected credit score range, can also impact how and where products appear on this site. While we strive to provide a wide range of offers, Bankrate does not include information about every financial or credit product or service.

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Coverage.com, LLC is a licensed insurance producer (NPN: 19966249). Coverage.com services are only available in states where it is licensed . Coverage.com may not offer insurance coverage in all states or scenarios. All insurance products are governed by the terms in the applicable insurance policy, and all related decisions (such as approval for coverage, premiums, commissions and fees) and policy obligations are the sole responsibility of the underwriting insurer. The information on this site does not modify any insurance policy terms in any way.

Knowing the technical terms used in an insurance contract can be daunting if you aren’t an agent yourself. For instance, what is the difference between a policyholder and a listed driver? This question is an important one when it comes to understanding how your car insurance contract works.

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Policyholders can affect how much the car insurance costs , who can make policy changes and when those changes occur. Bankrate has broken down exactly what a policyholder is so that you can better understand your role as it applies to your insurance contract.

A policyholder (or policy holder) is the person who owns the insurance policy. In most cases, the policyholder is the only person who can change the policy. The policyholder is also the person that is responsible for making sure premium payments are up-to-date. Along with the policyholder, your contract may also list additional drivers. An additional driver is anyone other than the policyholder who is covered to drive.

When you are the owner of a vehicle, it is typically considered to be your responsibility to ensure the vehicle is insured. That’s why, in most cases, the policyholder is the vehicle’s owner. However, you can still be the policyholder even if you do not own a vehicle in certain cases. For example, if you are the primary driver of a vehicle but you don’t own it, the insurance company may still require you to be listed as the policyholder. If you are in this situation, it is important to understand the policyholder is considered responsible for the premium payments, any cancellations and any policy changes.

What’s the difference between a policyholder and a listed driver?

Policyholders buy and manage the insurance policy, including adjusting coverage as needed. Most auto insurance policies allow for multiple policyholders so that spouses and partners can hold the policy together.

But other drivers can be protected even if they do not meet the policyholder definition. These are called listed drivers. A teenager who recently received their license is probably a listed driver and not a policyholder, for example. If that teen called the insurance provider and tried to change their auto insurance coverage, they would likely be unable to do so. That right is generally reserved for the policyholder.

How to determine what types of coverage you need as a policyholder

As a policyholder, you are responsible for making sure your policy offers the protections you need. As you shop for the best car insurance policy , there are specific coverage types you may want to include, namely:

Let’s look more closely at these options:

Liability coverage

Most states require this type of car insurance. You will most likely need both bodily injury and property damage liability coverage to legally drive in your state.

Bodily injury liability helps with medical expenses if you hurt someone in an accident. Similarly, property damage liability helps with the others’ property damaged in an at-fault accident. That means it can help pay for repairs for another driver’s car, or even to repair your neighbor’s garage after accidentally backing into it, for example.

Some states require PIP, which is considered no-fault coverage. Regardless of whether you are at-fault for an accident, it can cover medical expenses for injuries sustained by you or passengers of your vehicle. PIP can also help with lost wages if you or one of your injured passengers is unable to work for a period of time following the accident.

Comprehensive coverage

If you own your vehicle outright, comprehensive is optional. However, you may want to consider adding it if you don’t currently carry it on your policy.  After all, your car is not only at risk when you are in drive. If a large tree limb falls on it overnight or someone steals it, your comprehensive coverage will help with the resulting expenses up to your vehicle’s value minus your deductible .

Collision coverage

You might have noticed that liability coverage only pays claims to the other parties involved if you are at fault in an accident. If you want coverage for your vehicle, you will need to add collision. Collision coverage pays to repair or replace your car if you are in an accident. As with comprehensive, collision is optional if you aren’t financing or leasing, and a deductible usually applies.

Other coverages

This is by no means a comprehensive list of available auto insurance coverages. For additional protection on and off the road, you might want to add other types of coverage , like roadside assistance, uninsured motorist or gap insurance.

Can a policyholder be changed after you purchase a policy?

Technically, no — you cannot change who the policyholder is after you purchase a policy. There are times, however, when you may need your policy to reflect a different person as the policyholder. In this case, your insurance company will cancel your current policy and rewrite it in the new policyholder’s name. Some examples of when this could happen include:

  • Selling your vehicle: When you no longer need to insure a car because you have sold it, you can contact your insurance company for the steps necessary to cancel your policy. Your vehicle’s buyer will then be responsible for buying insurance in their name. Some states require you to cancel your registration before canceling the policy. Otherwise, you risk incurring fines for a lapse of insurance.
  • Death of a policyholder: If the policyholder dies, their insurance needs to be canceled and rewritten for the vehicle’s new owner. Do note that some insurance companies will require a death certificate or executor of estate paperwork to make changes to the policy.

Frequently asked questions

Why aren’t all the drivers listed on my policy shown on my id cards, can i allow an additional driver to make changes to my policy, is the policyholder the same as the named insured, related articles.

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Insurance is a legal and financial contract that involves two parties. One party proposes to cover for you or your property and the other purchases it. The party which gives you Insurance is known as the ‘insurer’, the other is the policyholder.

A policyholder is a person who has purchased the insurance policy. Thus a policyholder is the owner of the policy and is the name that goes into the records of the company. Most often, the policyholder is the one who is insured in the policy as well. In types such as home insurance or vehicle insurance, these are the same.

But note that it is not necessary for a policyholder and the person insured to be the same. Both the insured and policyholder are related but can be different as well.

For example, if you have purchased a life insurance policy for your wife, then your wife will be the one insured but you will remain the policyholder.

Or if you have a business and you have taken insurance for your business partner.

In both these cases, both the insured and policyholder are related but not the same person.

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