How your family history affects your life insurance premiums

If an immediate family member has a history of cardiovascular disease or cancer, you might pay slightly more for life insurance. However, personal health history and age impact the cost of life insurance more.

Headshot of Policygenius editor Nupur GambhirRebecca Shoenthal author photo

By 

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.

 & 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.

Updated | 3 min read

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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.

Key Takeaways

  • 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: 

LIFE INSURANCE COMPANYNO ADVERSE FAMILY HISTORY1X LIVING PARENT WITH HEART DISEASE (UNDER 60)1X DECEASED PARENT WITH HEART DISEASE (UNDER 60)
AIG$22.12$26.48$37.44
Banner Life (Legal & General America)$21.99$26.62$37.60
Brighthouse$20.50$26.26$41.64
Lincoln Financial$20.96$25.64$40.95
Mutual of Omaha$27.95$34.40$44.72
Pacific Life$22.30$26.66$37.61
Protective$21.77$21.77$41.53
Prudential$40.25$47.47$57.31
SBLI$22.94$28.25$40.83
Symetra$25.53N/AN/A
Transamerica$23.87$28.38$39.34

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 classificationFamily history
Preferred plusNo deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer
PreferredNo deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer
Standard PlusNo 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. [1] 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. [2] 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: 

  • Alzheimer's Disease 

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

  • Aneurysm

  • Attempted suicide or mental illness

  • Cardiomyopathy

  • Huntington’s disease

  • Porphyria

  • Sickle cell anemia

  • Stroke

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Family history if you’re adopted 

When applying for life insurance, if the company can’t verify a piece of information about your medical history, they generally assume the worst. But if you’re adopted and don’t know your birth family medical history, insurance companies won’t hold that against you and it won’t be included in the underwriting process.

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. 

FAQ

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.