Historical figures who (probably) couldn't get life insurance

They might have made a good impression on history, but the life insurance application can be tougher to crack.

Headshot of Policygenius editor Nupur Gambhir


Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Senior Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is a licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service Cake.

Updated October 1, 2021 | 6 min read

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Unfortunately for daredevils, life insurance companies don’t really like risk. And more often than not, the people who have influenced the pages of history had to lead dangerous lives to get there.

Military leaders, pirates, explorers, and scientists are among the people who changed the landscape of the world by embarking on careers that wouldn’t look that great on a mortality table. Luckily for them, life insurance policies weren’t as common in their day and age, but still — here is how they might have fared if they tried to apply for some coverage.


Reason: believed in heliocentricism, got a criminal conviction

Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei finally broke it to humankind that the universe doesn’t revolve around us, and we didn’t really take it that well. His theory that the Earth actually revolved around the sun — and not the other way around — was highly controversial and essentially illegal in 1633. It had him convicted of heresy, and he received a life sentence in prison, concluding his later years under house arrest.

If Galileo had tried to purchase a life insurance policy while he was still alive, it’s unlikely he would have been able to get one. His criminal conviction would have made it riskier for insurers to offer him coverage, and most life insurance companies will only offer policies after someone’s prison sentence or probation has ended. If he did get approved by a more flexible life insurance company, he probably would have seen atrociously high premiums.

The longer you wait after a conviction, the more likely you are to be accepted for coverage at decent rates. For Galileo, it only took... over 300 years for his name to be cleared, long after his death. Unfortunately, Galileo had the right idea, just at the wrong time.

→ Read more about how a criminal conviction affects your life insurance application

Policy denied2

Anne Bonny

Reason: piracy, drug and alcohol abuse, kidnapping, etc.

Anne Bonny, renowned for her life as a female pirate, had a career that would prompt most life insurance companies to immediately decline her for coverage. Insurers are already hesitant to offer people who sail or yacht the best premiums when they’re doing so legally and safely, so when your entire career involves not only sailing the high seas, but also commandeering people’s property and engaging in armed conflict — you’re probably not going to be approved for a policy.

Even if Anne Bonny’s occupation somehow allowed her to get a life insurance policy in the lowest health classification, it’s unlikely the underwriter would have been willing to move forward with a policy offer after the initial phone interview. Anne’s excessive drinking, raiding, looting, and affinity for holding people captive would probably fall in the “high-risk” category for life insurance mortality tables. Blimey.

→ Why do life insurance underwriters care about bad habits? Learn more


Reason: dabbled in danger...for science

The Greek philosopher Aristotle was a multitasker — his work led to developments in everything from mathematics and metaphysics to politics and philosophy. It was his proximity to the Aegean sea for several years of his life that also allowed him to extensively study marine biology and discover new animal life, which led to a better understanding of biodiversity, the first known classification system of living beings, and Aristotle’s title as the father of marine biology.

Aristotle had an impressive resume, but he probably wouldn’t have won over a life insurance underwriter. Working with animals can already impact the life insurance classification you get, and animal trainers often don’t get the best life insurance rates.

Observing and studying wild animals poses its own set of risks to insurance companies: there’s the risk of infectious diseases, unpredictable animal behavior, and of course, the element of the unknown, which is a big red flag when insurers set out to place you on a mortality table.

Not only was Aristotle dabbling with the unknown, but he was also doing so without any professional equipment or protocols, which generally didn’t exist at the time. His groundbreaking work would have been a wild card for life insurance underwriters, and they likely would have given him the lowest health classification or no life insurance policy at all.

Fun Fact: Even though he wouldn’t have qualified for a traditional life policy, Aristotle was clearly concerned with estate planning. While life insurance as we know it wasn’t around during Aristotle’s time, he still ensured that he had a financial plan in place for his two heirs and estate. His final will and testament listed provisions for his executors and how to disperse his assets.

→ What is a will and testament? And do you need one?

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Louis, Clark, and Sacagawea

Reason: went on a not-so-safe expedition

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, assisted by Sacagawea, weren’t the first to map the terrain of western U.S. states like Montana, Washington, and Oregon, but they are the most famous. The trio traversed over 8,000 miles of terrain to map out land west of the Mississippi River. But their adventures were, to put it lightly, a life insurance agent’s nightmare, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to get a life insurance policy if they’d set off for the same journey today.

While there’s no textbook ban on explorers getting a life insurance policy today, that’s likely because discovering a new geographical location in the time of accessible life insurance is unchartered territory. What life insurance companies do take into serious consideration are your travel plans, how safe your travel is considered to be, and your overall risk of mortality. When you apply for life insurance, any impending travel plans to a risky location might cause your application to be postponed or even denied.

Here’s what the Lewis and Clark expedition faced on their journey: the threat of disease, violence, unknown landscapes and weather, a lack of resources, and no access to hospitals or government aid. Any of these elements alone would likely deem a locale as a risky travel destination today, and anything west of the Mississippi River probably would have been considered too dangerous for permissible travel or life insurance coverage. Lewis, Clarke, or Sacagawea were pioneers in the American landscape, yes, but they still probably wouldn’t have been granted a life insurance policy.

→ Learn more about how travel impacts your life insurance policy

Joan of Arc

Reason: boosted morale! But in a war-zone

French martyr Joan of Arc’s reputation as a military leader in Fifteenth-Century Europe would have made her life insurance application a bit complicated. Life insurance companies usually decline anyone on the front lines of combat but can offer normal coverage for people in the military who don’t have any hazardous duties or work in a warzone.

And while Joan of Arc was not one of the French soldiers engaging in active combat against the English during the Hundred Years’ War, she was still on the frontlines of a war zone boosting morale and organizing campaigns for the French military. In fact, she was injured during war efforts twice: once by an arrow and once by a crossbow. Plus, anyone stationed in a warzone will usually get an immediate application rejection from insurers.

Joan’s plans to become a martyr probably wouldn’t have helped her case either. Life insurance companies offer coverage based on how risky it is that the policyholder will die during the policy’s term, and it’s unlikely that they would insure you if you choose an occupation that essentially requires your death.

→ Are you in the military? Learn more about how that impacts your life insurance application