Applying for life insurance means answering some pretty personal questions. For example: How much do you weigh? (We’re talking the actual number, not the aspirational estimate on your driver’s license.) Do you smoke marijuana? Whom do you want to get the life insurance money when you die? Wait — not your spouse?
Don’t let any of that stop you from getting a life insurance policy. Here are the answers to five questions you might be embarrassed to ask your insurance agent.
1. Am I too fat to buy life insurance?
Even if you’re overweight according to your body mass index (BMI), a common measure of fat based on your weight and height, you can still qualify for good rates with a lot of companies, says Ryan Andrew, owner of the Andrew Agency insurance brokerage in Richmond, Virginia.
The key is applying for coverage with the right companies for your situation, which an agent can help you do.
“Some companies have very strict height and weight guidelines, some are much more lenient, and some companies don’t use them at all,” says Michael Quinn, an independent agent and owner of Lifeinsuranceblog.net in Orlando, Florida.
Even if your weight keeps you from getting the best rates, Andrew says to apply for coverage when you need it, rather than wait until you shed the extra pounds. You put your family at financial risk if you go without coverage, and you could develop a health problem in the meantime that could drive up your rates if you wait. Apply for coverage now, he says, and if you lose weight later, you can ask the insurer to adjust your rates accordingly.
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2. Am I too old for a policy?
The cutoff age to buy term life insurance, which provides temporary coverage for a certain number of years, is age 70 or 75 with most companies, Andrew says. You can buy smaller whole life insurance policies to cover burial and other final expenses at almost any age.
Most people need life insurance when they’re raising a family. The good news is that a term life insurance quote is going to be low and affordable when you’re young and healthy. Life insurance quotes increase as you get older. Here’s a look:
Average lowest annual term life insurance quotes for a 20-year, $500,000 term life policy for nonsmoking, healthy men and women
Methodology: We averaged the lowest three quotes for term life insurance from NerdWallet’s life insurance tool for healthy men and women of average height and weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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3. Can I get coverage if I smoke pot?
Yes, says Jeff Root, owner of the Rootfin independent insurance agency in Austin, Texas. “If you admit it, tell how many times you use it and why you use it, you can get coverage.”
As with anything else, life insurers vary in how they view marijuana when setting rates. With some companies, you can qualify for nonsmoker rates if you use marijuana no more than a couple of times a month recreationally. If you have a prescription for marijuana, you can qualify for nonsmoker rates even if you use it frequently, but the insurer will look at the underlying condition, which, depending on its seriousness, could affect your rates and whether you can get coverage, Root says.
Whatever you do, be upfront and don’t try to hide your marijuana use, Root says. He’s seen cases where someone lied about it but then got caught when the insurer reviewed medical records and found an admission of marijuana use. The insurer then denied the application.
Some clients worry about whether their marijuana use will become public knowledge if they admit it to a life insurance agent, Root says. But the information is private under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and agents could get in trouble if they blab about it.
Root advises working with an independent agent who can get quotes from several companies.
4. Can I apply as a nonsmoker if I sneak a cigarette now and then?
“Most companies will classify you as a smoker even if you smoke occasionally, but there are certain companies that are much more lenient,” Quinn says.
An agent that sells policies from different carriers can help you find the company that will give you the best rates for your situation.
As with any other detail, Andrew coaches clients to be truthful. Even if a lab test from a life insurance medical exam comes back clean, the insurer could find evidence of smoking somewhere in your medical records.
5. Can I leave the money to someone other than my spouse?
“You can dictate whoever you want as your beneficiary,” Andrew says.
The policy owner — the one who pays for the coverage — has the sole right to designate the beneficiary, the person who receives the money when the insured person dies.
However, if you live in a community property state, your spouse may have the right to a share of the money if the life insurance policy was purchased with income earned during the marriage.
Community property states are:
- New Mexico
The rules vary by state, so if you want to name someone other than your spouse as beneficiary and are unsure of the consequences, talk to an estate attorney to learn how the laws work where you live.
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Whether you’re worried about a few extra pounds or the cigarette you smoked at last weekend’s cocktail party, the best strategy is to move forward, get life insurance quotes from different companies, and tell the truth when you apply for coverage.
“I tell clients, ‘I want to do all I can to help you get a policy, but you have to be honest with me,’” Andrew says.