What you need to know about the life insurance application

Here is what to expect during the application process so you can come prepared.

Headshot of Policygenius editor Nupur Gambhir


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.

Updated December 9, 2021 | 7 min read

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After you’ve decided on the type of life insurance you need and how much coverage you need, you’re going to tackle the next step in securing life insurance coverage: the life insurance application process.

The online application asks about your health background, family history, and lifestyle choices. We’ve broken down everything you need to know to get started.

Key Takeaways

  • The life insurance application asks for your height, weight, age, and medical history

  • Based on your answers, you are offered a preliminary quote for your premiums

  • After filling out the application, you hop on the phone with an adviser and go through the underwriting process to get your actual rate for coverage

Life insurance application questions

When you apply for life insurance through Policygenius, you’ll be asked about your health history and lifestyle. Insurers want to know about your medical background, your family history, and any risky lifestyle choices you make — such as if you’re a pilot. The phone interview will confirm the answers you provided in your online application. Because your conversation with a life insurance agent will be more personalized, the phone interview will dig deeper into your background and ask supplemental questions.

Basic information questions

In the online application, you’ll be asked about your age, height, and weight to get your initial quote — life insurance quotes are based on an analysis of your overall risk of dying during the term of the policy. Once you hop on the phone with a life insurance agent, you’ll typically be asked to provide some additional information:

  • Social Security number to confirm your identity

  • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to confirm your identity if you don’t have a Social Security number

  • Driver’s license info to evaluate your motor vehicle history and any risky behavior (such as a DUI)

  • Contact information to send your application decision and final policy details

Personal and family health questions

Insurers will also want to evaluate your medical history and family background. The less healthy you are, the likelier it is you will end up paying higher life insurance premiums. Your family history can come under scrutiny too because it can indicate to insurers how likely you might get ill. When you’re filling out your online application, you’ll be asked if you have ever been treated for or have taken any medication for asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, sleep apnea, or stroke.

Once you’re on the phone with an agent, they’ll ask you to provide more information about the following:

  • Previous and current medical diagnoses

  • Prescription history to confirm the information you provided on your application

  • Past surgeries

  • Family medical history to determine any illnesses you may be genetically predisposed to

Your medical history paints a complete picture of your health to insurers. Depending on your background and the type of life insurance policy you’re applying for, you may also be asked to provide previous medical records.

Lifestyle, habits, and hobbies

What you do for work or fun impacts your life insurance application. If it’s risky enough, and if insurers think that there’s even a small chance it will impact the length of your life, you may end up paying higher premiums or adding an exclusion to your policy. Below are some of the lifestyle choices insurers look at critically:

High risk activities don’t always mean higher premiums or that you’re ineligible for coverage. If you're not taking part in the activity frequently you may not see any difference in your premiums at all. But for some applicants, insurers may add exclusions to your policy to offset the risk. An exclusion to your policy could mean that if you die while participating in a risky activity, your beneficiaries won’t receive the death benefit.

Once you submit all of this information, you’ll receive an initial quote for your coverage. You’re not locked into these rates — if you end up needing to postpone your application, you can re-apply again later. Additionally, the quote you receive might not be the actual rate you are offered. Insurers determine how much you’ll actually pay for premiums after you go through the underwriting process.

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Designating a beneficiary

The initial life insurance application won’t require a beneficiary designation, but once you’re on the phone with an agent, you’ll need to name your policy’s beneficiaries. If your circumstances change down the road, you can adjust them later. But you won’t be able to leave them blank for now, and you probably wouldn’t want to take that risk — a lack of beneficiary designation means that there’s a chance your loved ones won’t get to collect the death benefit.

The person you list as your policy’s beneficiary should be someone that would be financially impacted by your death. This is usually a spouse or partner — but can be another trusted adult. You won’t be able to list someone that wouldn’t be financially affected and should refrain from naming your children as your policy’s beneficiaries. Even though they’ll likely need the most financial support, life insurance money cannot be paid out to minors. Instead, set up a trust and list their legal guardian as the beneficiary.

→ Learn more about life insurance beneficiaries

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Non-traditional life insurance applications

Not all life insurance applications are the same and the application process for some policies will look a little different. Depending on the type of life insurance you buy, the application may be more robust or alternatively, less intensive. We dive into those specific instances below:

Whole life applications

While whole life is vastly different than term life insurance — it lasts your entire life and tends to be a lot costlier — the application process looks pretty much the same. You’ll submit information about your background, family history, health profile, and financial standing to get an estimate of what your whole life quotes will be.

Though the application process is so similar, some whole life insurance applications may require more intel about your financial background. Whole life insurance policies can also be more complex; they come with cash value that adds an investment-like component to your life insurance coverage.

→ Learn more about whole life insurance

Guaranteed applications

The application process for a guaranteed issue life insurance policy looks a lot different than the traditional term or whole application process. Guaranteed life policies are exactly what they sound like — application approval is essentially guaranteed, as long as you don’t have a terminal illness.

Because of this, guaranteed life policy applications aren’t as thorough as traditional life policies. Rather than a deep dive into your medical records and previous medical conditions, your life insurance asks a few preliminary questions to make sure you don’t have a disqualifying condition — a terminal illness. If you get a guaranteed policy through your employer, there may be no preliminary questions or application process at all.

→ Learn more about guaranteed life insurance

Further health inquiries

Certain medical conditions may require more information from your insurer before they can completely process your application. To get a better understanding of your condition, you’ll likely be asked to provide an attending physician’s statement, or APS. This statement is a written notice from your doctor about your health so that insurers can better understand the severity of your condition and what you’re doing to treat it. This step usually takes place during the underwriting process.

If you need to provide your insurer with an APS, it doesn’t mean you’re ineligible for life insurance or will necessarily have to pay higher premiums. But it does add an extra step to the buying process and lengthens the time it takes to complete your life insurance application.

→ Learn more about an attending physician’s statement

What happens if you lie on your application?

Intentionally lying on your application is considered life insurance fraud and will likely result in application denial. Not only will you be ineligible for coverage from the insurer you applied to, but any future applications will also note a history of insurance fraud through the Medical Information Bureau, which can jeopardize getting approved for life insurance coverage or paying affordable premiums.

→ Learn more about the different types of life insurance fraud

What happens after you apply for life insurance?

After you’ve completed your life insurance application, you’ll go through the underwriting process, which includes either the medical exam or a thorough evaluation of your medical history. Insurers use the underwriting process to verify the information you provided in your life insurance application and determine your premium rate.

The entire process can take up to 5-6 weeks, but if you apply for an accelerated underwriting or instant decision life insurance policy, you may receive a decision in as little as 24 hours. After you’ve been approved for life insurance, you’ll need to pay your policy’s first premium and sign your official documents for your coverage to become active.

If your application is denied, you can still make sure that your family is financially covered. You can start by checking with your life insurance agent about what went wrong; disqualifying factors for one insurer don’t mean you can’t get coverage from another. Alternatively, if your application is postponed, making some lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking may be able to secure you some coverage in six months to a year.

→ Learn more about what comes next in our guide to the underwriting process

The life insurance application is the first part of getting coverage. After you complete your application and get your initial life insurance quote, you’ll consult with an adviser about next steps and securing financial coverage for your loved ones.

Frequently asked questions

How long does a life insurance application take?

The online life insurance application for an insurer offered through Policygenius takes under 10 minutes. After you receive your initial quote, you hop on the phone with an insurance adviser to review your options.

How do you get approved for life insurance?

Approval for life insurance coverage involves a thorough evaluation of your medical history, health profile, family background, and lifestyle choices. If one of these factors makes you ineligible for traditional life insurance approval, you can get guaranteed issue life insurance.

Can you purchase life insurance online?

The initial life insurance application process is online, however you will have to undergo the complete life insurance application process to get coverage. This generally includes a thorough evaluation of your health profile through a medical exam or by looking at your previous medical records.