Insurers use your age, gender, hobbies, and overall health to determine your life insurance premiums. Family medical history of your parents and siblings factors into your life insurance health classification, too, because some life-threatening diseases can be caused by genetic diseases (such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes). But even if your loved ones have suffered from an illness, you’re not doomed to pay a high premium. Some life insurance companies are more forgiving than others, and your family medical history is just one of many factors underwriters take into account when determining your life insurance rates.
Life insurance companies use your family’s medical history as an indicator of your future health risks.
Your personal health and age are weighted more heavily than your family history of disease or premature death.
You shouldn’t lie about your family’s medical history because insurers can see previous medical records and lying could cause you to lose coverage.
How family history affects the cost of life insurance
If your family has a history of illness, you might see some higher premiums. Here are what rates look like based on the factors below:
Methodology: Rates are calculated for a healthy 30-year-old female living in Columbus, Ohio, obtaining a 20-year, $750,000 term life insurance policy. Health classifications vary from Preferred Plus, Preferred, and Standard Plus. Quotes are based on policies from AIG, Banner, Brighthouse, Lincoln, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Protective, Prudential, SBLI, Symetra, and Transamerica and may vary by carrier, term, coverage amount, health class, and state. Not all policies are available in all states. Rate illustration valid as of 1/4/2022.
If you have a parent or sibling who’s died from heart disease you could pay more in monthly premiums than an applicant with no significant family medical history. However, this price difference is still lower than it is for individuals who are in poor health. With that in mind, your actual life insurance rates may vary — and if you’re relatively healthy, they may turn out to be better than you expect.
Family history guidelines
The top insurance companies all classify a family history of illness differently; insurers take a holistic approach to determining your classification that involves more than just your family history. Applicants above a certain age may not be evaluated by their family history at all.
The below are general guidelines insurance companies use to determine health classifications:
Life insurance health classification
No deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer
No deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer
No more than one death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancer
Why do insurers care about family history?
Insurance companies set your premiums based on the risk you pose to them —the higher your risk of dying while your policy is in force, the higher your policy premiums will be.
Your family’s medical history tells an important story about your genetics.  Trends in your immediate family’s mortality can indicate a higher chance of you getting sick — even if you’re currently in great health. According to the World Health Organization, diseases like cancer, diabetes, and asthma can develop simply because you’ve inherited the genes that make you susceptible to it.  Life insurance companies take this possibility very seriously.
Illnesses or trends that suggest a genetic predisposition to different conditions include (but are not limited to):
Depending on the severity and frequency of a disease in your family’s health history, you may get a worse health classification. But your family history won’t make or break your application. Your medical background and age are given more value, so even with a family history of disease, you can still get competitive coverage.
Underwriting and family history
Once you submit a life insurance application, insurers will take a look at your health, either from a medical exam or from previous medical records. You’ll also have an extended interview with the insurer, where you’ll answer even more questions about your family history.
Specific diseases you may be asked about include:
While the death of an immediate family member can earn you a lower health classification, you shouldn’t worry too much about an adverse family medical history. It’s unlikely to disqualify you from getting coverage altogether — and if you’re not a risky candidate in other facets of your life (like your health or hobbies) you can still get affordable premiums.
Buying life insurance if you're adopted
The only time your adoption will come into play during the life insurance application process is when you are asked about your family history, which is just one part of the robust overview of your health conducted by life insurance companies.
How does adoption affect your family history?
Even though family history plays a role in the life insurance application decision process, you won’t receive an adverse decision if you don’t know your biological family’s medical history. Instead, it simply won’t be included in your health profile.
“If a proposed insured is adopted and does not have any information regarding their biological family history, that can be noted and the underwriter will assume [a] best-case scenario. What is known, however, should be disclosed to avoid any contestability concerns down the road,” says Eloise Spinello, Senior Manager of Life Operations at Policygenius.
Underwriting if you don't know your biological family’s history
If you don't know your biological family's medical history, it will be marked as ‘unknown’ in your application. If you don’t know the health history of your biological family, insurers won’t hold this against you on your application. Your family history will be marked as ‘unknown’ and noted that you are adopted.
Underwriting if you do know information about your biological family’s history
Whatever you do know about your biological family’s medical background, you should disclose it to the underwriter. The most important thing is to answer the questions about your biological family history — and every other part of the life insurance application — to the best of your knowledge.
But, whatever you do, be honest. Any indication that you intentionally withheld information during your life insurance application is considered life insurance fraud and could result in your policy being canceled by the insurer — meaning they won’t pay out the death benefit to your beneficiaries.
Other health concerns that can affect your life insurance
Certain pre-existing conditions and other health-related concerns can affect your life insurance options or costs. A Policygenius expert can help you find the right policy for your needs.
Frequently asked questions
Does COVID-19 affect the life insurance application process or eligibility?
Due to the ever-changing nature of the coronavirus pandemic, some insurers are modifying processes and/or imposing coverage restrictions on certain health conditions or age groups. Speak to a Policygenius agent for free to find out how to get the most affordable policy.
Does family history affect life insurance?
Yes. Your life insurance rates may be higher if someone in your immediate family (such as a parent or sibling) has a history of certain illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer.
Why is family medical history important in underwriting?
Insurers evaluate family medical history because you may be genetically predisposed to certain illnesses that could increase your risk of death. For example, if your family has a history of diabetes, it is more likely that you will receive a diabetes diagnosis in your lifetime.