How your family history affects your life insurance premiums

Your family’s medical history can mean higher premiums — but if you’re in good health you shouldn’t see a big price difference.

Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Published August 27, 2020

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Your family’s medical history is evaluated by life insurance companies because it can be an indicator of your future health

  • While the death of an immediate family member due to disease will increase your life insurance rates, it isn’t weighed as heavily as your health or age

  • 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

Insurers evaluate your age, gender, hobbies, and overall health to determine your life insurance premiums. But factors that seeming inconsequential also play a role in the premiums you’re offered.

Your family history can play a part in the health classification you receive after you go through the underwriting process. Life insurance companies want to know whether your parents or siblings suffer or suffered from any genetic diseases (like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes). And if any of your immediate family members have died, they’ll want to know at what age they died and how.

Your rates are affected by this information because insurers see a family history of health issues as a predictor of your own health. . But even if your loved ones have suffered from an illness, you’re not doomed to high premiums — your family history is just one of many factors taken into account when determining your life insurance health classification and some life insurance companies are more forgiving than others.

Why do insurers care about family history?

Insurers 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 really sick — even if you’re currently in great health — because of the genes you share with your siblings or inherited from your parents. 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.

Because a family history of cancer or diabetes could mean that it’s likelier that you receive a cancer or diabetes diagnosis, your family’s medical history is evaluated thoroughly by insurers. They’ll look at illnesses or trends that suggest a genetic predisposition to different conditions, which include (but are not limited to):

  • Breast cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Lung cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Prostate cancer

Depending on the severity and frequency of a disease in your family’s health history, you may get a lower health classification. But your family history isn’t the only variable insurers look at — it won’t make or break your application. Your medical background and age are given more value, and even with a family history of disease, you can still get competitive coverage.

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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 life insurance company you should apply to and what your premiums might look like, and the more thorough application that involves a deep dive into your background and sets your policy rates.

Initial application and family history

During the initial life insurance phone interview, there is usually only one question about your family history that the life insurance providers will ask:

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

You won’t be rejected from getting life insurance coverage based on your answer, but you might get higher premiums. Some companies won’t change your rates solely based on your family history if the cancers were diagnosed over a certain age — 60 or 70, depending on the insurer.

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

Underwriting and family history

Once you submit a life insurance application to a carrier, 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

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 when you go through underwriting, insurance companies access your previous 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.

Additionally, intentionally withholding information from your insurer is considered life insurance fraud — which can lead to the life insurance company refusing to pay out the death benefit to your beneficiaries or canceling your policy altogether.

Lying on your life insurance application about your family history just isn’t worth it for two reasons:

  • 1. Because it’s not the only factor taken into consideration by insurers, you can still get a competitively priced policy.
  • 2. Each life insurance company is different and some insurers may offer you better rates than others even if you’ve had family members that have been diagnosed or died from a disease.

It’s always better to disclose any pertinent information early on in the application process to ensure that you’re applying to an insurer that works with your exact situation and can get you the best possible rates.

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 won’t hold that against you and it won’t be included in a part of your underwriting process.

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How family history affects the cost of life insurance

If your family has a history of illness, you might see some higher premiums. According to Policygenius data as of August 2020, here are what rates look like for a 30-year old female getting $750,000 in life insurance coverage:

LIFE INSURANCE COMPANYNO ADVERSE FAMILY HISTORY1X LIVING PARENT WITH HEART DISEASE (UNDER 60)1X DECEASED PARENT WITH HEART DISEASE (UNDER 60)
AIG$22.27$27.36$41.64
Brighthouse$20.50$26.26$37.65
Banner Life (Legal & General America)$21.94$27.01$37.48
Lincoln Financial$31.24$39.38$66.94
Mutual of Omaha$27.95$34.40$44.72
Pacific Life$22.50$28.11$37.60
Principal$21.99$27.67$37.28
Protective$22.15$27.22$43.00
Prudential$38.28$45.50$54.69
SBLI$22.70$28.27$39.74

While the rate change can mean you’re paying $10-20 more in premiums, the 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: your application can still be viewed favorably and you can still get a competitive price for coverage.

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

Some insurers are better than others if you have a family history of illness. The rates you’re offered are based on the four main life insurance classifications, from lowest life insurance rates to highest:

  • Preferred Plus
  • Preferred
  • Standard Plus
  • Standard

The graph below demonstrates how each of the top insurance companies classifies a family history of illness as of August 2020. The classifications below are general guidelines and not set in stone — insurers take a holistic approach to determining your classification that involves more than just your family history and applicants above a certain age may not be evaluated by their family history at all.

LIFE INSURANCE COMPANYPreferred PlusPreferredStandard PlusStandard
AIGNo family deaths from cardiovascular disease or cancer before age 60 and no death from parent of same sex from breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer before age 60No family deaths from cardiovascular disease or cancer before age 60 and no death from parent of same sex from breast, ovarian, or prostate cancer before age 60One death from cancer or cardiovascular diseaseN/A
Banner Life (Legal & General America)No history of cardiovascular disease in immediate family before age 60No parent deaths from cardiovascular disease before age 60No more than one parent death from cardiovascular disease before age 60No more than one parent death from cardiovascular disease before age 60
Brighthouse(Also called Elite Plus and Elite). No deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer before age 60 though some types of cancers may not be includedNo deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer before age 60N/AN/A
Lincoln FinancialNo deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease prior to age 65No deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease before age 60N/AN/A
Mutual of OmahaNo death of parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60No death of parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60 (though one cardiovascular related death may be permitted if all other factors indicate "good risk")One parent death due to cardiovascular disease prior to age 60N/A
Pacific LifeNo cancer or cardiovascular disease in either parent prior to age 60No death of parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60No more than one death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease prior to age 60N/A
PrincipalNo deaths in immediately family prior due to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, or diabetes prior to age 65No deaths in immediately family prior due to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, or diabetes prior to age 60One death due to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, or diabetes prior to age 60N/A
ProtectiveNo death in immediate family from cancer, heart disease, or any cardiac-related condition prior to age 60.No death in immediately family from cancer, heart disease, or any cardiac-related condition, of either natural parent or sibling prior to age 60N/AN/A
PrudentialNo death in immediate family due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, or cancer prior to age 60.No death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, or cancer prior to age 60.N/AN/A
SBLINo cardiovascular disease or cancer in immediate family prior to age 60No death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60 (if you meet all other Preferred criteria)No more than one death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60Death of both parents due to cardiovascular disease or cancer prior to age 60
TransamericaNo deaths in immediate family due to cardiovascular disease or the following cancers before age 65: breast, ovarian, prostate, colon, lung & melanomaNo death of a parent due to disease before age 60No death of a parent due to disease before age 60N/A

The graph above says a lot. The biggest takeaway is that the death of a family member can earn you a lower health classification, but you shouldn’t worry too much about an adverse family medical history. It’ll never 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.

Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir

Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is an insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she has worked in marketing and business development for travel and tech. She has a B.A. in Economics from Ohio State University.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

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