What do I do if my life insurance application is declined?

Each insurer’s underwriting guidelines vary, so if you get declined for life insurance with one company, you may have more luck with another.

Zack Sigel

Zack Sigel

Published August 22, 2018

Life insurance companies use a process called underwriting to determine not only how much your insurance premiums will be but also whether you’re eligible for life insurance coverage at all. Each insurer’s underwriting guidelines vary, so if you get declined for life insurance with one company, you may have more luck with another.

Among the most common reasons for a decline are pre-existing conditions, which you may have to declare during the underwriting process or which may be later discovered in your medical records or during your paramedical exam. People with pre-existing conditions may have to pay a higher premium for insurance coverage, choose a guaranteed-issue policy, or accept a lower death benefit.

Read on to learn about your options if your life insurance application is declined:

Why was my application declined?

During underwriting, life insurance companies look at many different factors. The insurer will want to get a picture of the risk you pose, which means looking at your hobbies and health. You’ll have to cop to anything that could kill you prematurely, like smoking, skydiving, or having a family medical history of cancer.

Each life insurance company sees these risk factors differently. Company A may decline you because you have diabetes, while Company B may accept you. If you’re worried that your application could be declined because you exhibit a certain type of risk, ask an agent at Policygenius to go over your options. He or she can help you compare quotes and life insurance policies, and will know which company is best for someone with your risk factors and where to go next should your first choice not pan out.

Chronic illness

If you’re currently suffering from a chronic illness at the time you apply, the life insurance company may decline your application.

You’ll increase your chances of acceptance if you can show that your illness is currently being treated, which will be explained on the attending physician’s statement (APS) that the carrier may request. For example, if you have asthma, you’ll need to show regular usage of a maintenance inhaler and long-term care from the relevant medical specialist.

There are several points during the application process where medical concerns will be unearthed. First, you’ll have to address them at the beginning, either on the phone or when you apply online. Next, you’ll have to take a medical exam (also called a paramedical exam), which is sponsored by the insurance company. This may include a blood or urine test that could detect internal illnesses as well as illicit drug abuse. Finally, the underwriter will look at your medical records and the APS.

Although every insurer is different, common health conditions that could cause a denial include:

  • Cancer
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Heart disease

Lifestyle choices

Making dangerous lifestyle choices also doesn’t necessarily translate into a rejection. You can get coverage if you’re a smoker, but your premiums will be significantly higher. But if you’re already suffering from one of the medical conditions related to smoking, like emphysema or lung cancer, your application will get declined.

Note that you shouldn’t lie on your application to try to avoid a denial. If it emerges after you die that you had a medical condition or a dangerous hobby for which you would’ve been denied life insurance coverage, the carrier can cancel your policy and your beneficiaries will only get a refund of your premium payments.


The older you are, the more difficult it will be to get insured. (It will also become increasingly expensive.) After a certain age, some life insurance products will be off-limits to you. Although you have options, you’ll have to get covered by a policy that may not meet all of your coverage needs.

Talking to your broker

If your life insurance application is declined, the first thing you should do is talk to your life insurance agent or broker. They’ll probably contact you first – when informing customers that they’ve been declined, life insurance companies tell the broker first and then send the shopper a letter directly. The insurer will usually say why your application was declined. Your broker can work with you to analyze the decision and strategize on what to do next.

Luckily, when you apply to another life insurance company, you can reuse the medical exam from your first application. That should shave a few weeks off of your application timeline.


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Alternative life insurance products

If your carrier deems you to be high risk, you may still be able to get insured by purchasing an alternative form of life insurance. These are no-exam life insurance policies, but they may offer lower coverage.

Simplified-issue life insurance

With simplified-issue, you’ll be able to skip the paramedical exam. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to discuss your health issues, and the underwriter will still see your medical records.

Plus, if you already applied previously, your information is stored in the Medical Information Bureau’s database, which insurers pull from to see why you were rejected for coverage in the past. Medical exam results from a failed life insurance application will be visible.

Simplified-life issue life insurance is also more expensive. For the same amount of coverage you’d get from a traditional term life insurance policy, you’ll pay much higher premiums. Additionally, most simplified-issue plans offer no more than $100,000 in coverage.

Guaranteed-issue life insurance

Also called “guaranteed-acceptance” life insurance, guaranteed-issue life insurance skips underwriting entirely. That means no medical exam and no look at your medical records. You’ll still be asked about your health, and misrepresenting yourself will have the same consequences as other life insurance policies.

Not only is guaranteed-issue life insurance more expensive, it also offers a much smaller death benefit. Usually, it’s between $10,000 and $50,000.

Final expense life insurance

Final expense life insurance is often called burial insurance. Policyholders are expected to die relatively soon, so final expense insurance typically only covers costs associated with the funeral. Still, it can lift a huge burden off your loved ones’ shoulders if you can afford the high premiums.

Group life insurance

If your life insurance application is declined, you may still be able to get group life insurance through your employer. Many employee benefits packages include a small amount of life insurance coverage, which you’re entitled to even if you have a serious medical condition or a dangerous hobby.

Employer-provided group life insurance premiums are low because you’re part of a larger coverage group, but you may not receive enough coverage. Additionally, if you move to an employer that doesn’t have life insurance benefits, you’ll lose your coverage entirely.