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.

Headshot of Policygenius editor Nupur GambhirRebecca Shoenthal author photo

By

Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is an insurance editor at Policygenius and licensed Life, Health, and Disability agent in New York.

&

Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Licensed Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal is an insurance editor and licensed Life, Health, and Disability agent at Policygenius in New York City. Previously, she worked as a nonfiction book editor. She has a B.A. in Media and Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Updated February 4, 2021|7 min read

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Insurers evaluate your age, gender, hobbies, and overall health to determine your life insurance premiums. But another seemingly inconsequential factor – your family medical history –  also helps determine the premiums you’re offered. 

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 health. But even if your loved ones have suffered from an illness, you’re not doomed to a high premium. Some life insurance companies are more forgiving than others, and your family history is just one of many factors underwriters take into account when determining your life insurance health classification.

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

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.  

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 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.   

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 receive 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, 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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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 February 2021, 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$22.27$26.99$37.53
Banner Life (Legal & General America)$21.94$27.00$37.48
Brighthouse$20.50$26.26$41.64
Lincoln Financial$21.71$26.86$43.29
Mutual of Omaha$27.95$34.40$44.72
Pacific Life$22.37$27.98$37.61
Principal$21.99$27.67$37.28
Protective$21.79$26.79$41.58
Prudential$38.28$45.50$54.69
SBLI$22.94$28.25$40.83
Transamerica$23.87$29.03$41.93

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, Principal, Protective, Prudential, SBLI, 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 2/4/2021.

If you have a parent or sibling who’s died from heart disease you could be paying about $20 more in monthly premiums than if you have no significant family medical history. 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.

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 can access all 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 

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.

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How family history affects life insurance health classifications

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 (best) to highest (worst):

  • Preferred Plus 

  • Preferred 

  • Standard Plus 

  • Standard 

  • Substandard

Substandard is a broader category that includes insurance table ratings for people who do not qualify for Standard or better rates. If you receive a table grade, your rates will be significantly higher than Standard and above, but you’ll still be able to get insurance. 

Family history guidelines by insurance company

The graph below demonstrates how each of the top insurance companies classifies a family history of illness as of February 2021. 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 and no death of a parent of same sex from breast, ovarian, or prostate cancerNo family deaths from cardiovascular disease or cancer and no death from parent of same sex from breast, ovarian, or prostate cancerOne death from cancer or cardiovascular diseaseN/A
Banner Life (Legal & General America)No history of cardiovascular disease in immediate familyNo parent deaths from cardiovascular diseaseNo more than one parent death from cardiovascular diseaseNo more than one parent death from cardiovascular disease
Brighthouse(Also called Elite Plus and Elite). No deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancer (some types of cancers may not be included)No deaths in immediate family from cardiovascular disease or cancerN/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 cancerNo death of parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancerOne parent death due to cardiovascular diseaseN/A
Pacific LifeNo cancer or cardiovascular disease in either parentNo death of parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancerNo more than one death of a parent due to cardiovascular diseaseN/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 conditionNo death in immediately family from cancer, heart disease, or any cardiac-related condition, of either natural parent or siblingN/AN/A
PrudentialNo death in immediate family due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, or cancerNo death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, or cancerN/AN/A
SBLINo cardiovascular disease or cancer in immediate familyNo death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancerNo more than one death of a parent due to cardiovascular disease or cancerDeath of both parents due to cardiovascular disease or cancer
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

Note: condition applies to family members up to age 60 unless otherwise indicated.

Methodology: Information based on policies from AIG, Banner, Brighthouse, Lincoln, Mutual of Omaha, Pacific Life, Principal, Protective, Prudential, SBLI, and Transamerica and may vary by carrier, term, coverage amount, health class, and state. Not all policies are available in all states. Information valid as of 2/4/2021.

The table above says a lot. The biggest takeaway is that the death of an immediate family member can earn you a lower health classification, but 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.

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