What is the waiting period for life insurance?

The waiting period in insurance occurs after you’ve applied and are waiting for your coverage to kick in.

The life insurance application process is a necessary part of getting coverage. However, a typical life insurance application can take about 5-6 weeks to process. That time period creates a gap between when you decide you need life insurance coverage and when you actually get that coverage. 

However, the waiting period in life insurance doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to risk your family’s financial health due to a lack of coverage. Temporary life insurance coverage and policies with a quicker turnaround time for application decisions offset the risk of incurring a coverage gap.

Key takeaways

  • The insurance waiting period is the time between applying for coverage and actually getting it

  • For a traditional life insurance policy, the waiting period can be 5-6 weeks, on average

  • Temporary coverage pays out to your beneficiaries if you die during the insurance waiting period

  • Instant decision, accelerated underwriting, and final expense life insurance policies offer immediate coverage

What is the waiting period in insurance?

The waiting period in life insurance is the time between when you initially apply for a policy and when your life insurance coverage goes in force. Typically ranging from 5-6 weeks, the waiting period occurs because insurers need to evaluate your background and health profile to determine how much you will pay for your life insurance premiums. 

During this waiting period, you don’t have life insurance coverage. If you die unexpectedly, your beneficiaries won’t receive any life insurance money. 

Most traditional term life insurance and permanent life insurance policies have this waiting period to get coverage. These policy types include:

Once you’re approved for coverage, you’ll need to pay your first policy premium and sign your life insurance policy for the waiting period to end. At that point, your coverage will be active and if you die, your beneficiaries will receive the payout. 

How the waiting period can cost you

Here’s an example of the expenses your loved ones could be liable for if you die during the waiting period:

EXPENSESAMOUNT
Mortgage$269,039
Five years of household support ($50,000/year income)$250,000
Raising two kids$467,220
College tuition$301,200
End-of-life expenses$10,000
Total expenses$1,297,459

The college tuition cost assumes each child attends a private, out-of-state, four-year university. End-of-life expenses based on data collected by the National Funeral Directors Association for the U.S. funeral market. Average mortgage is based on data compiled by Zillow in February 2021.
 

While the actual expenses and costs will vary based on your circumstances, you can see from the graph above that if you die during the waiting period, your family might lose the financial support they need to afford their cost of living and end up on the hook for a lot of money.  

How to avoid the waiting period

It is possible to get a life insurance policy without undergoing the waiting period, though this comes with some caveats. Life insurance coverage that doesn’t require a waiting period is only for specific demographics or comes with some coverage restrictions. 

Here’s how to skip the insurance waiting period: 

If your application requires a medical exam, getting temporary life insurance coverage is your best bet. It pays out some funds to your family even if you haven't been approved for your actual coverage yet. 

Alternatively, a term life insurance policy that has no medical exam and no waiting period can offer coverage that is comparable to that of a traditional term life insurance policy — but not everyone qualifies. Whole life insurance policies with no medical exam and no waiting period generally don’t offer enough coverage for most people and are bought to cover minimal expenses or as a last resort. 

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The waiting period for insurance payouts

The waiting period can also occur between the time your beneficiaries submit a death claim form and the time they receive the actual payout. Processing the death claim can take as little as two weeks to as long as a few months, after which the life insurance company will pay out the death benefit.

If your loved ones will need immediate financial support, consider creating a contingency plan, like a savings account they can immediately access, while they wait for the funds. 

The life insurance waiting period can have some serious consequences for your beneficiaries — if you unexpectedly die during this time, they might not get the death benefit you’re working towards. But you can ensure that they’re financially protected by getting temporary life insurance during the application process or opting for a no-medical exam policy that makes a quicker application decision. 

FAQ

What is the meaning of waiting period in insurance?

The waiting period in insurance is the time between applying for coverage and getting that coverage. You do not have insurance coverage during this waiting period.

Why do companies have a waiting period for insurance?

Insurance companies generally don’t offer automatic coverage to applicants. The waiting period is in place so they can conduct a thorough evaluation of your background and determine the risk of insuring you.

How long does it take for benefits to start?

Life insurance coverage begins in as little as 24 hours or as long as six weeks after you undergo the application process.

Can I get life insurance with no waiting period?

There are life insurance policies available that offer coverage without a medical exam or waiting period. These policies have different eligibility and coverage parameters than typical life insurance policies so consulting a life insurance agent is the best way to decide if they are a good fit for you.