Life insurance and family history

How your parents’ and siblings’ health history can affect your life insurance rates.

Logan Sachon

Logan Sachon

Published October 1, 2018

When you apply for life insurance, you’ll have to answer a lot of questions about your own health history and take a medical exam — but it might surprise you that you’ll have to answer questions about your family’s medical history as well, and that your answers to those questions may affect your rates.

Life insurance companies want to know whether your parents or siblings suffer or suffered from any genetic diseases (like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes). If any of your immediate family members have died, they’ll want to know at what age they died, and how.

Your rates can be negatively affected based on this info, and some life insurance companies are more forgiving of family history than others.

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The best life insurance companies for people with a family history of disease

Some carriers are better than others if you have a family history of disease. You won’t be denied a policy based on a family history of disease, but you may be rated higher.

A life insurance agent can make the best recommendation for you based your specific family history, but in general, these are the rankings for companies based on how friendly their rates are for people with complicated family health history.

Banner LifeExcellent
Lincoln FinancialExcellent
Mutual of OmahaExcellent
Pacific LifeExcellent
  • Excellent - Above average; company provides excellent coverage for clients with this condition.
  • Good - Spot on; company doesn’t look at this condition unfavorably in underwriting.
  • Fair - Could use some work; clients with this condition may be issued a lower health rating, and subsequently higher rates than other insurers.

Sample life insurance quotes

We pulled quotes for a $500,000, 20-year term policy for a 34-year-old woman with no health issues. Then we pulled quotes for the same woman if she had one parent who was diagnosed with heart disease at 55 and is still living and quotes for if that parent had died.

CompanyNo family history1 parent heart disease dx at 55 (living)1 parent heart disease dx at 55 (not living)
Banner Life$18.06$23.13$31.30
Lincoln Financial$25.24$25.24$52.19
Mutual of Omaha$19.47$19.97$34.34
Pacific Life$18.49$23.64$31.50

** * Monthly rates for a 34-year-old healthy woman in Virginia** N/A = Quotes not available at this time

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What questions do life insurance companies ask about family history?

There are two phases to the life insurance application: the initial application, which helps you and the insurance broker determine which carrier you should apply to, and the more thorough application that goes to the underwriters and sets your policy rates.

Initial application and family history

When you initially apply for life insurance, there is usually only one question about your family history that the life insurance providers will ask: “Have your parents or siblings have been diagnosed with, treated for, or died from heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, or diabetes?”

If your answer is yes, you’ll need to share at what age they were diagnosed or died from the disease. Some companies don’t penalize you if the cancers were diagnosed over a certain age — 60 or 70, depending on the carrier.

If you disclose a family history of cancer, the insurance company will want to know which type. Some insurance companies specify which cancers affect rates; ovarian, colon, lung, melanoma, breast, and prostate cancers are the most common ones taken into account. Additionally, some insurance companies disregard gender-specific cancers like breast, prostate, or ovarian for opposite-sex applicants.

If you’re an older applicant, family history may not affect your rates at all. Many insurance companies do not take family history into account for applications over a certain age — 60 or 70, depending on the carrier.

Underwriting and family history

Once you submit a life insurance application to a carrier, you’ll undergo a medical exam and extended interview where you’ll have to answer even more questions about your family history.

Specific diseases you may be asked about include:

  • attempted suicide or mental illness
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • porphyria
  • cardiomyopathy
  • sickle cell anemia
  • Huntington’s disease
  • aneurysm
  • stroke
  • Alzheimer's Disease

Again, a family history of disease won’t get you denied from any company, but it may change your life insurance classification and raise your premium.

Can you refuse to disclose family history to a life insurance company?

It may be tempting to withhold sharing your family history, especially if you think the information could lead to higher rates.

But remember that when you go through underwriting, insurance companies may access your medical records. Most doctors take note of your family history on your chart, so if your family history is in your medical records, your rates will come back higher than your initial quotes.

It’s always better to disclose early during the application process, then you and your insurance broker can ensure that you’re applying to a carrier who is most generous to people in your exact situation and that you’re getting the best available rates for your personal and family health history.

Family history if you’re adopted

Generally when applying for life insurance, if the company can’t verify a piece of information about your medical history, they assume the worst.

But if you’re adopted and don’t know your birth family medical history, insurance companies will not hold that against you, and your rates will be based on your health history only.

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