Shopping for life insurance with your spouse

Setting up the right financial plan for your family involves life insurance coverage for not just you, but also your spouse.

Headshot of Policygenius editor Nupur GambhirRebecca Shoenthal author photo

By

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.

&Rebecca Shoenthal

Rebecca Shoenthal

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius. Her insights about life insurance and finance have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, The Balance, HerMoney, SBLI, and John Hancock.

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By

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®

Certified Financial Planner

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius. Previously, she was a regional consultant at Fidelity Investments for nine years.

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Shopping for life insurance with your spouse or domestic partner is similar to shopping for two individual life insurance policies. But although joint life insurance policies are a unique option for married couples, they rarely make financial sense. Newlyweds and long-time couples should work together to ensure the family's life insurance policies will cover any dependent children, future financial obligations, and shared debt.

Key takeaways

  • Married couples have the option of buying separate life insurance policies or a joint policy.

  • Joint life insurance policies insure both partners, but are costlier and are rarely the best option for couples.

  • Domestic partners have the same life insurance coverage options as married couples, as long as they can prove insurable interest.

  • It is illegal to take out a life insurance policy on your spouse without their knowledge.

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Types of life insurance for couples

There are two main types of life insurance anyone can choose from, including couples regardless of marital status – permanent and term life insurance. While both offer a death benefit — a tax-free lump sum the beneficiary receives if the insured dies — term is the most common type of life insurance. It is also pretty affordable, especially if you purchase it while still young and in good health. A term life policy can last up to 40 years, but it eventually expires. 

Permanent life insurance, on the other hand, never expires and usually includes a cash value component in addition to the death benefit. The cash value earns interest over time. Permanent life, however, is often pricey — five to 15 times more expensive than term — but it can be a good option for high-income earners or people with lifelong dependents. 

In addition to choosing a specific type of life insurance, couples can supplement their coverage by adding riders to their policy. A rider is an add-on that can offer additional protection under certain circumstances.

A few riders couples may be interested in considering include:

  • Accelerated death benefit rider. With this rider, you can take money from the death benefit to pay your medical expenses in case of terminal illness. It can also cover end-of-life care such as hospice care or living in a nursing home.  

  • Critical illness insurance rider. This type of rider pays out accelerated benefits while you’re alive to cover treatment for certain illnesses specified in your policy that could limit your life expectancy and leave you with unaffordable medical bills.

  • Spousal insurance rider. This is a family insurance rider that ensures you’ll receive a death benefit if your spouse dies. It can help cover the costs of household labor, like childcare, even if your spouse isn’t the primary breadwinner. 

When you’re purchasing your life insurance policy, your agent or broker can help you determine what life insurance riders you need.

What is the difference between life insurance and spouse life insurance?

The best spouse life insurance will be a policy that offers the most comprehensive  coverage for a competitive price and is easy to be approved for. For most couples, regardless of their marital status, buying two separate life insurance policies will provide that option. Each spouse can purchase the policy that offers the best premiums and benefits based on their health, gender, age, and lifestyle, and then name their spouse as their primary beneficiary. 

Joint life insurance — a policy that covers both spouses — on the other hand, is a unique option for couples, and in some particular cases, it can be the right choice. However, separate life insurance policies are more popular because they are cheaper and offer more robust coverage for couples. Plus, in case of a divorce, splitting up joint policy can get tricky.

A joint policy “is rarely a good idea,” says Policygenius senior sales associate Warren Robbins. By buying separate policies for you and your spouse, you ensure each of you is getting the best premium rates for your specific health profile, age, and gender. With a joint policy, you could end up paying more to accommodate one person’s older age or health status.

Separate life insurance policies

Life insurance companies don't do buy-one-get-one-free deals, so purchasing separate life insurance policies at the same time won't save you money. However, buying separate policies tends to be less expensive policies because each policy is tailored to each spouse’s individual needs. For example, you may want the breadwinner to have more coverage than a stay-at-home spouse, or you may want only one person to have riders that offer extra provisions, like early access to the death benefit.

Married couples and domestic partners purchasing separate life insurance policies can save time by scheduling a joint medical exam.

Joint life insurance policies

A joint life insurance covers two people and is usually a type of permanent policy. This type of policy tends to be more costly than individual life insurance.

Joint life insurance is only available to married couples or domestic partners. This type of policy may make sense in specific situations, such as if one spouse’s health prevents them from getting their own life insurance policy. However, this will result in higher premiums for the spouse in better health.

What are the two main types of joint life coverage?

There are two joint policy options available: first-to-die or second-to-die.

  • First-to-die joint policy: The policy pays out upon the death of the first policyholder. If the surviving spouse wants more coverage, they’ll need to apply for a new policy.

  • Second-to-die joint policy: Also known as survivorship life insurance, this policy doesn’t pay out until both policyholders are deceased.

How does joint life insurance work?

Most joint policies are permanent life insurance policies, which last your entire life and have an investment-like cash value feature that earns interest. Joint term life insurance policies, which expire after a set period, do exist but are less common.

  • First-to-die joint policies are usually best for people with expenses supported by one spouse; people with large debts, like a mortgage; or young families. First-to-die life insurance is the closest option you’ll find to an individual life insurance policy. It helps the surviving spouse cover expenses after the loss of the financial support provided by the spouse who passed away.

  • Second-to-die policies pay out the death benefit only after both policyholders die, so it’s not intended to replace family household income. Second-to-die policies are best for couples who intend to use the policy proceeds as part of a estate planning portfolio — the cash value can be used to cover estate taxes, leave a nest egg for the couple’s heirs, or pay inheritance taxes.

A policy that covers both spouses can be a good option in very specific scenarios. Most couples, however, will benefit from purchasing two separate individual life insurance policies.

The best life insurance for married couples and domestic partners will depend on the individual circumstances, so you should talk to a licensed expert about whether separate policies or a joint policy is right for you and your spouse.

Is my spouse automatically my life insurance beneficiary?

You can designate your spouse as  your life insurance beneficiary, — but you have to specifically name them as such in your policy. Marital status doesn’t entitle anyone to automatically become a beneficiary on their spouse’s life insurance policy.

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Supplemental spouse life insurance

If you work, you may be able to get some spousal coverage through your employer’s supplemental spouse life insurance. Also known as voluntary spouse life insurance, this is an useful option to increase existing coverage or can be helpful if your spouse doesn’t qualify for a traditional policy.

Supplemental coverage from group life insurance is an addition to the base coverage included in some employer benefits packages. The supplemental coverage can usually be bought for yourself, your spouse, or your dependents. 

A few caveats apply: 

  • Employers can limit the amount of additional coverage available.

  • You lose supplemental spouse coverage if you leave your employer.

  • Your spouse may be asked medical questions and can be denied coverage.

Because of the connection to your employment status and other potential restrictions, it’s best to treat supplemental and voluntary spouse life insurance as complements to your existing life insurance plan.

Best life insurance companies for couples

Banner and Protective are two of our top choices for life insurance for couples. Both insurers offer very competitive rates, long terms, and supplemental riders that can meet the coverage needs of most spouses or domestic partners.

4.7

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Banner logo

Banner has some of the longest term lengths and most competitive life insurance rates in the market, including the option to add an accelerated death benefit rider for terminal illness.

Pros

  • Very competitive rates

  • Covers many health conditions

  • Term lengths up to 40 years

Cons

  • Strict temporary coverage eligibility

  • Reconsideration is paid for by the applicant

Banner Life stands out for offering some of the longest terms and the most competitive rates in the market. Spouses and domestic partners can purchase 35- or 40-year term policies at an affordable cost, which can help them protect each other and their children, if they have them, until they’re all financially independent.

Protective

4.9

Policygenius rating

How we score: Policygenius’ ratings are determined by our editorial team. Our methodology takes multiple factors into account, including pricing, financial ratings, quality of customer service, and other product-specific features.

Protective logo

An easy customer experience, low competitive rates, long term options, and very high coverage amounts make Protective a top-tier choice for anyone looking for term life insurance, including spouses and domestic partners.

Pros

  • One of the best values on the market

  • Variety of coverage amounts and term lengths

  • Solid suite of online tools

Cons

  • Slow application approval

  • No no-medical-exam options

Protective offers term lengths up to 40 years and coverage amounts up to $50 million. Spouses and domestic partners can also add an accelerated death benefit rider for terminal illness to their life insurance policy.

How spouses can shop for life insurance together

After you and your partner determine how much life insurance you need, the rest of the buying process is the same as it is for single shoppers.

  1. Determine how much life insurance you need as a couple By figuring out the right amount of life insurance you need and a term policy’s length that makes sense for your family, you can avoid overpaying for coverage.

  2. Choose a beneficiary Most spouses shopping together choose their partner as the primary beneficiary, though you also have the option of choosing your children or even an institution.

  3. Consider community property laws If you live in Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin, you need your spouse’s consent to name someone other than them as your beneficiary.

  4. Decide between term or whole life insurance A term life insurance policy offers coverage for a specific period of time, anywhere from 5 to 40 years, while a permanent life insurance policy lasts your entire life.

  5. Pick the right life insurance company The health status of both you and your spouse will likely determine what life insurance company you purchase your policy from. Some are better than others at accommodating health conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol and providing lower premiums for applicants with those conditions.

Can you take out a life insurance policy on your spouse?

One final consideration: Can you buy a life insurance policy for your spouse without their knowledge or vice versa? Not legally.

To get a life insurance policy, the insured person must physically take the life insurance medical exam. Even with a no-medical-exam life insurance policy, your spouse must sign for the policy and give consent. Signing for the policy on your partner’s behalf — or anyone for that matter — is considered life insurance fraud and has serious consequences.

However, if your partner is willing to participate in the underwriting process and is willing to sign off on the policy, you can still take out a life insurance policy on them and pay the premiums. To do so, you’ll still need to prove insurable interest (proof that you would be financially burdened if they die).

Married couples rely on one another in many ways, especially financially. Spouses looking for life insurance and financial protection have a few more considerations to make, such as how long each person wants their policy to last, who they need to provide for, and whether a joint policy is right for them.

→ Speak to an agent about what type of life insurance is right for you and your spouse

Life insurance and domestic partnerships

If you’re in a domestic partnership or civil union, you probably share bills, a mortgage, and dependents, and require the same amount of coverage and benefits as married couples. As long as you can prove insurable interest, you’re eligible to get a policy and list your domestic partner as your beneficiary in the same way as a married person could.

If you’re not legally married, you are still eligible for life insurance coverage but may be asked additional questions during the underwriting process to demonstrate financial interest. Life insurance companies look for financial justification for getting life insurance coverage to lessen the chance of fraud.

Essentially, if you can demonstrate to the underwriter that your beneficiary will incur a financial loss if you die, you shouldn’t have a problem getting life insurance coverage — there just might be some extra paperwork.

Life insurance for spouses FAQs

Should both spouses have life insurance?

If both spouses provide some level of support for the family, then both people should have life insurance coverage. The amount of life insurance needed varies based on each spouse’s income or contribution to the household (such as child care or housekeeping), and outstanding individual or joint debts.

Is life insurance cheaper if you are married?

The cost of life insurance isn’t impacted by marital status. It depends on factors such as your health, age, lifestyle, and gender.

Should you get spouse life insurance?

If you or your spouse would lose each other’s financial support in their absence, both of you should consider getting life insurance. Spouses and domestic partners usually share financial responsibilities, from everyday expenses to a mortgage to the cost of raising children if they have them. A life insurance policy would provide continuing financial stability and peace of mind to both spouses and their dependents.

Can you take out a life insurance policy on your spouse?

As long as you can prove insurable interest — in other words, proof of the financial loss the dependent will face if the insured dies — you can take out a life insurance policy on someone else, including your spouse. But your spouse needs to participate in the application process and sign the policy.

Can you buy life insurance on your spouse without them knowing?

Your spouse needs to be a willing participant in the application process and sign the policy. Trying to get life insurance on someone else without their consent is considered insurance fraud.

Authors

Senior Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir

Senior Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

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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.

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Rebecca Shoenthal

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

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Rebecca Shoenthal is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius. Her insights about life insurance and finance have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, The Balance, HerMoney, SBLI, and John Hancock.

Expert reviewer

Certified Financial Planner

Kristi Sullivan, CFP®

Certified Financial Planner

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Kristi Sullivan, CFP®, is a certified financial planner and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius. Previously, she was a regional consultant at Fidelity Investments for nine years.

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