Life insurance companies pay out the policy death benefit for almost every cause of death, even suicide.
But if you die by suicidal death less than two years after you purchased your policy, the insurance company will likely not pay the death benefit due to a couple of exclusions included in most policies called the suicide clause and the contestability period. Once both exclusions have expired, the insurance company will pay the payout regardless of the cause of death.
When does life insurance cover suicide?
Life insurance usually covers suicidal death as long as the death occurs two years after your policy has gone into effect. Before that, most policies have exclusions in place that allow insurance companies to deny claims due to death by suicide or investigate deaths considered suspicious.
If you die by suicide within the first two years of your policy, the insurer will likely not pay the death benefit to your beneficiaries.
When does life insurance not cover suicide?
There are protections in place during the first two years of your policy designed to protect the insurer from fraud. If you died by suicide, committed an activity that was excluded from your policy, or lied on your application, the insurer may not have to pay the death benefit for your policy.
The following provisions are written into most life insurance policies, and normally last two years. While these periods often overlap, they have different functions.
What is a suicidal death clause?
A suicidal death clause is a section of an insurance policy that outlines certain restrictions that apply if the insured person dies by suicide. For most insurance policies, the suicidal death clause — also referred to as a suicide provision — is in effect for two years. After that, death by suicide will not affect the payout whatsoever.
The purpose of this clause is to protect both the insurance company and the insured person. The suicidal clause prevents someone from getting a life insurance policy and intentionally taking their own life to provide funds to their beneficiary.
If you commit suicide during the first two years of the policy, instead of getting the full death benefit, your beneficiary will receive a refund of any payments you made and where applicable, cash value from a permanent insurance policy.
How does the exclusion period work?
The exclusion period – usually the first two years that your life insurance policy is active – is a set period of time that allows the insurer to deny the death benefit in certain cases. The suicide clause is in effect during the exclusion period.
During the exclusion period, if you die by suicide, your beneficiary will likely not be able to claim the full death benefit. After the exclusion period, the insurance company will pay out the death benefit regardless of the cause of death — including suicide. Your policy won’t be subject to any exclusions.
What is the contestability period?
The contestability period is another clause included in life insurance policies that can allow the insurer to deny or reduce the death benefit paid to the policy’s beneficiaries. The contestability period covers the first one to three years of your policy and allows the insurance company to investigate any deaths during that period for evidence of fraud.
The company can refuse to pay a claim or pay out a smaller amount if it's discovered that you lied on your policy application.
How does the insurance company know if someone died by suicide?
Life insurance companies usually accept the cause of death provided on an insured person’s death certificate. However, if the insured person dies during the contestability period, it’s possible that an insurer will contest the claim so they can investigate the cause of death further.
Sometimes mental health history or substance use issues can factor into the cause of death. In these cases, the burden is on the insurance company to prove that the insured person died by suicide and/or lied on the application.
It’s important to be honest and transparent on your life insurance application so that if you do pass away while covered, your beneficiary will be able to claim the death benefit without delays.
Could death by suicide delay payment of death benefits by an insurer?
When your beneficiary files the claim on your insurance policy, the insurer legally has 30 to 60 days or less to process the claim and pay the death benefit. As long as your policy has been active for the two to three years required to exempt you from the contestability period and suicide clause, your payout will process in a timely manner like any other claim.
If you do die within the contestability period of your policy, the insurance company may challenge the claim that the beneficiary files. In these cases, it may take more time for them to determine if the claim is valid or not. A contested claim can take up to a year to resolve.
What can you do if your life insurance claim is denied?
In the rare case that your death benefit claim is denied, you can contest the decision. It’s the insurance company’s responsibility to prove that the circumstances surrounding the insured person’s death allow them to exercise this exclusion.
This is difficult to do, and especially when it comes to suicide, there are many gray areas. Challenging a denied claim often works in the beneficiary’s favor. If your claim is denied, in most cases, the decision is worth challenging.
How to avoid getting a denied life insurance claim after suicide
The best thing you can do to avoid the denial of a life insurance claim on your policy is to be thorough and accurate on your application. Insurance companies desire to pay out legitimate claims, but will use the tools available to them to investigate suspicious claims.
If you do pass away by suicide or other means, the insurance company will be more inclined to provide the payout to your beneficiary in a timely fashion if they are confident that you were forthcoming with your personal information on the application.
Consult state laws about suicide and life insurance
Your insurance policy will outline how a death by suicide would be handled, most commonly in the suicide clause. If your beneficiary is in a situation where you die by suicide within the contestability period, and the claim is denied, they may still have options.
State laws oversee regulations pertaining to grace periods, free look periods, incontestability periods, payment guarantees, and timely payout. If you feel that your insurer is not honoring any of these aspects of your agreement, you may be able to appeal to your local regulations for help.
Many state regulations go beyond what the policy agreement requires to the benefit of the insured. For instance, in the state of Washington, insurers must pay interest on the death benefit starting with the date of the deceased's death to ensure a timely payout.
Life insurance policies are heavily regulated by state governments and the agent who sells you your insurance policy will be licensed in your state. It’s unusual to need to appeal to state regulations to receive a payout, but in rare circumstances, they may help your beneficiary receive a fair payout.
Does life insurance cover physician-assisted suicide?
Doctor-assisted suicide, also called “death with dignity” or “right-to-die,” refers to a situation in which someone chooses to end their life with the assistance of a doctor. Assisted suicide, similar to other deaths by suicide, isn’t covered by most insurers within the first two years of a life insurance policy.
This can vary depending on the state you live in. Life insurers may pay out during the suicide exclusion period in some states with death with dignity laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia have death with dignity laws: 
Death with dignity states
District of Columbia
The particulars will vary based on your circumstances and location, so talk to your physician and a lawyer who specializes in end-of-life planning if you have questions.
Does group life insurance cover death by suicide?
Employer-sponsored group life insurance policies often don’t include a suicide clause because these policies usually renew annually during open enrollment. That means your group life insurance policy will likely pay out for any cause of death at any time. To confirm whether a group policy covers suicide, ask your company's benefits manager.
Does military life insurance cover death by suicide?
Standard life insurance policies won’t pay out a full death benefit if you die by suicide during the contestability period — usually the first first two to three years of the policy — but life insurance provided through the military will provide full coverage right away, even if you die by suicide.
Does life insurance cover drug overdose or alcohol?
If you die by an accidental drug overdose or alcohol use, the insurer will pay out the full death benefit. But if you have a history of drug and alcohol abuse when you apply for life insurance, you’ll have a harder time getting insurance coverage at all, and it will be more expensive for you because the insurance company will be taking on a greater risk.
If you pass away from a drug overdose during the contestability period, the insurance company may contest the claim to determine if your death was intentional. If they can prove that you purposely overdosed with the intention of taking your own life, they may not be obligated to pay out the benefit in full.
Can you get life insurance if you have a history of mental health conditions?
You can usually get life insurance even if you have a history of a mental health condition. When you apply for life insurance, the insurer evaluates your physical and mental health to determine the risk of insuring you.
Because depression is linked to an increased risk of suicide, insurers will ask about your treatment and hospitalization history.
A history of self-harm or hospitalizations will lead to higher rates, and in more serious cases, a denial of coverage. But if you can show a record of stability through medication and/or therapy, you can likely still qualify for competitive rates with some insurance companies.
Where to get help if you or someone you know is in crisis
If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988. The service is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY by using your preferred relay service or dialing 711 then 988. All calls are confidential.
Other resources if you or someone you know is in crisis:
The Veterans Crisis Line provides confidential support for veterans and their families: dial 988, press 1; or text to 838255; or start an online chat.
The Crisis Text Line offers free 24/7 support for people in crisis. Text HOME to 741741.