Q

Does life insurance cover suicide?

A

Life insurance covers suicidal death as long as the insured bought the policy two to three years before their passing, the period covered by their policy's suicide clause.

Rebecca Shoenthal author photoAmanda Shih author photo

By 

Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius. Her insights about life insurance and finance have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, The Balance, HerMoney, SBLI, and John Hancock.

 & Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is an editor and a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert at Policygenius, where she writes about life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

Updated April 22, 2022 | 3 min read

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Life insurance companies pay out the death benefit for almost every cause of death. However, insurance companies will not cover suicidal death in the first few years after you buy coverage. Your policy's suicide clause outlines the exact period when it won't be covered. After that, your life insurance policy will cover suicidal death.

Does life insurance pay for suicidal death?

After the first two to three years, life insurance companies will pay out for suicidal death.

The life insurance suicide clause in your policy states that if the death is the result of self-inflicted injury the policy is in force, the insurer can refuse to pay the full death benefit. This applies to privately owned term or permanent life insurance. The exact period during which suicidal death is excluded from coverage varies by policy but is usually two years.

This provision prevents someone 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.

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Group life insurance and the suicide clause

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 the company's benefits manager.

How mental health can impact your life insurance rates

When you apply for life insurance, the provider 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. [1]

A history of self-harm or hospitalizations will lead to higher rates. But if you can show a record of treatment through medication and/or therapy, you can still qualify for competitive rates with some companies. 

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 rather than experience a diminished quality of life after a terminal illness diagnosis.

Death with dignity, 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: [2]  

  • 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.

Life insurance suicide clause vs. contestability period

Life insurance policies have another clause that allows the insurer to deny or reduce the death benefit, called the contestability period. Contestability is different than the suicidal death exclusion, though the two periods often overlap.

The contestability period covers the first one to two years of your policy and allows the insurance company to investigate deaths during that period for evidence of fraud. The company will refuse to pay a claim or pay out a smaller amount if it's discovered that you lied on your policy application.

While contestability and the suicide exclusion only last for a couple of years, they both restart if your policy lapses due to nonpayment and has to be reinstated.

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.

Frequently asked questions

What is the life insurance suicide clause?

A suicide clause is a policy exclusion that states that an insurer will not pay out for death by suicide within the first two to three 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 some cases insurers may pay out at any time in states that have death with dignity laws.

Does a history of self-harm affect life insurance?

You may pay more for life insurance if you have a history of self-harm on your medical record. However, providers look favorably on applicants who are pursuing treatment for their physical or mental health.