Around 50% of American workers participate in group life insurance policies that they receive through their employers.
And it’s easy to understand why anyone who is eligible would default to insurance through their employer: The subsidized approach of employer-sponsored life insurance means those costs are split across more individuals, including the employer.
But what happens when it’s time to retire? Can you maintain your employer-sponsored life insurance policy, or are you required to purchase individual life insurance? And will you even qualify for an affordable policy? Thankfully, you’ll find an abundance of resources and options to help navigate your life insurance needs post retirement.
Here are four truths to consider when it comes to life insurance and your upcoming retirement.
Keeping Employer-Sponsored Life Insurance After Retirement Is Tricky
The simple answer is yes, you can keep the plan you acquired under your employer after you’ve retired. However, there are some stipulations.
Group life insurance is one of the most commonly offered benefits in an employer-sponsored benefits package. As with other life insurance policies, group life insurance is designed to cover the financial risks to your family should you pass away. That said, most employer-sponsored life insurance plans are term life policies, meaning you’re covered for a set period of time — in this case, until you leave your place of employment, regardless of the circumstances. That includes retirement.
Should you choose to leave, you may be able to take your plan with you by converting it from a term life policy into an individual whole life policy. In most cases, you can also transfer the entire face value of that policy over to the whole life policy. So, if the death benefit of your employer-sponsored term life policy is $250,000, your new whole life insurance policy will still offer a $250,000 death benefit.
If you’re not sure whether your employer’s group life insurance is portable, add life insurance to your checklist of items to discuss with your benefits manager or human resources department. If it is, you should be able to convert your plan without any difficulties.
Cash Value of Group Life Insurance May Be Available
Most employers offer term life insurance policies, which are cheaper than other policies and have no cash value. However, it’s possible that your employer-sponsored policy is one of several types that do have a cash value.
If your plan does in fact have a cash value, that value can be carried over when you convert it to an individual policy. Alternatively, you may choose to withdraw the cash. If you do so, you can cash out the amount you’ve paid in premiums over the time you’ve had the account. This cash withdrawal is tax free; however, you’ll need to pay capital gains tax if you withdraw any interest that the policy has accrued over time
Although most employers do not offer group whole life insurance — a policy that covers the insured for the duration of his or her lifetime — it does exist. If you have a whole life insurance policy with your employer, your plan is likely also portable.
Many policies will allow you to take out a loan against the cash value, as well. Any amount you do not pay back on the loan will be deducted from the death benefit upon your passing.
Individual Life Insurance May Be Harder to Come By
Whole life insurance policies are expensive, so you may not want to convert your employer’s policy into one. If you choose not to, you may hit a roadblock when you attempt to sign up for an individual policy.
Most life insurance policies have a health screening requirement. If you’re 65 or older and in good health, you may be able to get a term life policy, but it will be significantly more expensive than if you had purchased a policy at a younger age. And if you have pre-existing health conditions, you may be barred from getting a policy at all, or the policies offered may be exceedingly expensive.
Should it be necessary, you may need to consider a Guaranteed Acceptance Life Insurance policy. Also known as a guaranteed issue (GI) plan, this type of policy has no health screening requirements and provides coverage even if you have severe medical conditions. Most of these plans operate as whole life insurance policies and therefore carry cash value. However, the death benefit is usually capped at $25,000 or less.
The amount you pay for a GI policy is based solely on age, location and gender. And because the insurer assumes all risks by avoiding questions about current health and pre-existing conditions, the premiums are much higher than most other life insurance policies.
Nevertheless, if you plan to retire and you can’t take your life insurance policy with you, GI is an option to explore — especially if you have pre-existing conditions that might result in rejections for other types of life insurance.
Don’t Forget to Do Your Homework
First things first, it’s important to take a step back and calculate how much life insurance you need based on your financial obligations and the family you’d be leaving behind if you were to pass away. Knowing your goal threshold will help you make plans for the future.
Further, you don’t have to seek a new policy if you don’t want to. More likely than not, you can convert your current group policy into an individual whole life policy. But if that option is not available to you or not preferable, consider purchasing an individual term life policy before you retire to avoid paying the excessive rates of a whole life or GI plan.
Ultimately, if a GI policy is your only option, you may need to strongly consider taking it. Funeral costs can easily exceed $7,000 — a traditional burial with a casket can cost nearly $18,000 — so consider the costs your family may face in the event of your death. If you wish to leave your family with the money to compensate them for funeral and burial costs, a GI plan will likely be worth the expense.
Maxime Rieman is Product Manager at ValuePenguin. Educating and assisting shoppers about financial products has been Rieman's focus, which led her to joining ValuePenguin, a consumer research and advice company based in New York. Previously, she was product marketing director at CoverWallet and launched the personal insurance team at NerdWallet.
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