When you apply for life insurance, the life insurance company will usually ask if you have a family history of certain illnesses in your immediate family. They do this because people who have a family history of some health conditions — such diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer — may be at higher risk of developing that condition in the future.
However, your own personal health profile is a much larger factor in determining the cost of your life insurance. If serious health conditions do exist in your family history, you’ll still be able to get life insurance coverage — you may just have to pay higher premiums.
Which health conditions in your family history can affect your life insurance?
When you apply for life insurance, you’ll have to provide information about your personal medical history, as well as illnesses or trends in your family history that could suggest a higher risk of different conditions. The most common health conditions they may ask you about include, but are not limited to:
Cancer (including breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer)
The insurance company may also ask you about additional conditions that can have a genetic or family history component, such as:
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Attempted suicide or mental illness
Sickle cell anemia
What questions will you have to answer about your medical family history?
During the application process, you’ll also have to answer questions specifically related to your immediate family’s medical history. This is because an early death in your family or a diagnosis from a condition that might have a genetic or family history component could increase your insurance risk.
For example, having a parent who died of a heart attack at age 45 will present a higher level of risk than a parent who was first treated for heart disease at age 75. Or your sister being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 may be seen as a higher risk than your mother being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 80.
These are some of the questions you may be asked.
Did any of your parents or siblings have a history of cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes before the age of 70?
If the answer is yes, the agent working on your application will ask follow-up questions to get a better picture of your family history.
Which relative had this condition?
At what age were they diagnosed?
Are they still alive?
If the answer is no, at what age did they die?
Each life insurance company usually will have different follow-up questions depending on the health condition present in your family health history.
How much will life insurance cost if your family history includes a serious illness?
The table below compares life insurance rates for someone between the ages of 20 and 50 without a family history of serious illnesses to someone who has heart disease in their family history. Older people are less likely to have their premiums impacted by their family health history.
You can expect to see similar rates for a family history of other conditions such as cancer or kidney disease, but it’s best to speak with a licensed agent who can give you personalized quotes based on your specific situation.
No adverse family history, the insured has no health conditions
One living parent with heart disease (under age 60)
One deceased parent with heart disease (under age 60)
How will your family history be treated in your life insurance application?
The life insurance application process looks similar whether you have a family history of a health condition or not.
First, you’ll connect with a licensed agent and submit an application. You’ll include information about your personal and family history, as well as information on your lifestyle and finances.
The agent will ask specific questions about your immediate family’s health history, such as whether any of your parents or siblings were diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes before the age of 60 or 70.
Next, you’ll take the life insurance medical exam or complete a health interview online or over the phone. This gives the insurance company more insight into your medical history to help determine the cost of your premiums.
After that, the insurance company will review your application to determine the cost of your life insurance policy, which can take up to several weeks. This step in the process is usually known as insurance underwriting.
Once you’ve been approved, you’ll sign your policy and pay your first premium. As soon as you do, your coverage will become active.
While the early death of an immediate family member from certain illnesses can impact the cost of your premiums, it’s unlikely that it will disqualify you from getting coverage altogether. If you’re not considered a risky candidate in other facets of your life (like your health or hobbies) you'll still be eligible for an affordable life insurance policy.
What if you don’t know your family’s medical history?
Even though family history plays a role in the life insurance application process, you won’t be declined if you don’t know your biological family’s medical history — and there can be multiple reasons for this: You may be adopted or no longer be in contact with your family of origin, or both your parents may no longer be alive.
If this is your case, your family’s medical history simply won’t be included in your health profile.
“If someone doesn’t have any information regarding their biological family history, the insurance company will assume a best-case scenario,” says Eloise Spinello, associate director of PgPro partner success at Policygenius. “What is known, however, should be disclosed to avoid any contestability concerns down the road.”
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. If the insurer finds out you lied or misrepresented yourself, it may decline your application or even cancel your policy down the road due to life insurance fraud.
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.
Mental health issues such as depression or anxiety