Q

Does life insurance cover suicide?

A

Life insurance covers suicide unless the death occurs during the first two years of the policy.

Rebecca Shoenthal author photoAmanda Shih author photo

By

Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Licensed Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal is an insurance editor and licensed Life, Health, and Disability agent at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she worked as a nonfiction book editor. She has a B.A. in Media and Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

&

Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an insurance editor and licensed Life, Health, and Disability agent at Policygenius in New York City. Her work has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Updated June 14, 2021|4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our

editorial standards

and how we make money.

Life insurance provides a financial safety net that lasts for decades. You may worry that an insurance company won’t pay the death benefit if you die, but life insurance policies almost always pay out. There are even protections in place if an insurer goes bankrupt.

One of the exceptions is laid out in your policy’s suicide clause. Death by suicide is not covered in the first one to two years of most life insurance policies. After the period ends, a life insurance policy will cover suicide.

Key Takeaways

  • Life insurance covers suicidal death only after an initial exclusion period

  • The exclusion period usually lasts two years and is outlined in the policy's suicide clause

  • Group life insurance policies often don’t have a suicide provision

What is a life insurance suicide clause?

The life insurance suicide clause is a provision that’s in place during the first two years of term and permanent life insurance policies. Normally, when a policyholder dies, the death benefit is paid to their beneficiaries in a tax-free, lump sum. The suicide clause states that if the death is the result of self-inflicted injury within the first two years the policy is in force, the insurer will refuse to pay.

This provision prevents an applicant from getting a life insurance policy and taking their own life immediately afterward. Instead of the death benefit, beneficiaries get a refund of any premiums paid, and possibly some cash value from a permanent insurance policy.

After the first two years, the policy will pay out for suicidal death.

Group life insurance and the suicide clause

Employer-sponsored life insurance policies often don’t include a suicide clause. If your loved one dies by suicide shortly after signing up for a group life plan offered by their employer, their policy will likely pay out. However, every plan is different, so speak to the deceased’s benefits administrator for the most accurate information.

Does life insurance cover physician-assisted suicide?

Doctor-assisted suicide, commonly known as “death with dignity” or “right-to-die”, refers to a situation in which someone chooses to end their life rather than experience a diminished quality of life after a terminal illness diagnosis.

Death with dignity is generally treated like other deaths by suicide, and isn’t usually covered in the first two years of a life insurance policy. 

In some states that have death with dignity laws, life insurers may pay out a death benefit even during the suicide clause period. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia have death with dignity laws: [1]  

  • California

  • Colorado

  • District of Columbia

  • Hawaii

  • Maine

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • Oregon

  • Vermont

  • Washington

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.

Ready to shop for life insurance?

Start calculator

When can life insurance companies not pay out?

Other than suicide cases, life insurance companies may not pay out during the contestability period or in cases of fraud.

The contestability period is the one- to two-year period after a policy first goes into effect. During this time, a life insurance company can investigate the insured’s cause of death—using the death certificate, an autopsy report, or other records—and deny claims if they discover fraud. 

Life insurance fraud that leads to claim denials usually happens when the insured lies about their health or habits during the underwriting process. Underwriting helps the insurer set policy premiums based on your health history and lifestyle. 

For example, an applicant could hide a smoking habit to avoid a costly Smoker classification. But if they die a year into their policy and the insurer finds signs of long-term smoking during an investigation, the company can deny the death benefit. This applies even if the cause of death wasn’t smoking-related.

There are a few important things to note:

  • Companies must have cause and evidence of fraud to deny a payout. 

  • The contestability period only lasts for the first two years of a policy, but it can be reset if the policy lapses and it’s later reinstated.

  • The suicide clause and the contestability period are not the same. Though the timing almost always overlaps, the suicide clause specifically deals with self-harm while the contestability period is concerned with fraud.

→ Learn more about what life insurance doesn’t cover

Life insurance and depression

During underwriting, life insurance companies evaluate your physical health and your mental health to determine the risk of insuring you. The relationship between mental health and life insurance can be complicated, so insurers consider each application on a case-by-case basis. 

Because depression is linked to an increased risk of suicide, insurers will ask about your treatment and hospitalization history. [2] Be honest so that your loved ones don’t lose out on the death benefit when you pass away. If you can show a record of treatment through medication and/or therapy, you can still be eligible for competitive rates.

Ready to shop for life insurance?

Start calculator

The incontestability clause

Many life insurance policies also include an incontestability clause. The clause ensures that a company can’t deny a life insurance claim after the contestability period ends.

There are some exceptions: errors in age or gender could result in coverage being recalculated rather than canceled, and depending on your state laws, your policy could still be canceled if fraud is discovered.  However, incontestability protects consumers from losing coverage because of application mistakes or a change in medical circumstances.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.

Life insurance and suicide FAQs

Does life insurance cover all causes of death?

Life insurance pays out the death benefit to your beneficiaries for most causes of death. Illness, suicide after the first two years, most accidents, and death by natural causes are all covered by life insurance.

What is a life insurance suicide clause?

A suicide clause is a policy provision that states that an insurer will not pay out for death by suicide within the first two years that a life insurance policy is active.

Will life insurance pay out in cases of doctor-assisted suicide?

Life insurance policies will cover doctor-assisted suicide after the first two years of a policy. In rare cases, some insurers may pay out at any time in states with death with dignity laws.