What is a life insurance rider?

Life insurance riders add extra coverage to your policy to protect you from unexpected situations.

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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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Maria Filindras

Maria Filindras

Financial Advisor

Maria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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Riders are add-ons to your life insurance policy. Some riders offer supplemental coverage for family members, some allow you to access the death benefit before you die if you meet certain criteria, and some allow you to change your benefit structure.

Some life insurance riders are common enough that most providers will either include them in your policy automatically or won’t increase your premiums if you opt to add them. Other riders come with an added cost to your monthly premiums. The pricing may vary depending on your insurance company, your health, the state you live in, and the amount of coverage you buy through the rider.

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

Key takeaways

  • Riders can be used to get additional life insurance coverage and customize your policy.

  • Common riders are often included in standard life policies for free.

  • The cost of life insurance riders varies depending on factors like the coverage amount and your insurer.

What are the types of life insurance riders?

Most riders fall into one of five categories. For some categories, a standalone insurance policy is often going to offer more coverage than a rider will, but some add-ons might be worth the additional cost, depending on your needs. The five types of life insurance riders you can choose from are:

Accelerated death benefit insurance riders

Accelerated death benefit insurance riders (ADB) take money from the death benefit to pay your medical expenses if you have a terminal illness. You'll need a doctor's diagnosis to confirm that you’re terminally ill and have 6 to 12 months to live in order to be eligible for a payout.

ADB riders can cover end-of-life care such as hospice care, living in a nursing home or hiring a private caretaker. But the funds don’t have to be used for care. Some insurers even suggest that you use the living benefit to pay for a vacation or anything that can make your final days as easy and enjoyable as possible. These benefits are paid out as needed instead of in a lump sum. The amount you receive can vary, but it can be as high as 80% of the death benefit.

Critical illness insurance riders

Critical illness insurance riders pay out accelerated benefits while you’re alive to cover treatment for certain illnesses that are specified in your policy, which could include a heart attack, cancer, stroke, kidney failure, ALS, and other critical conditions that could limit your life expectancy and leave you with unaffordable medical bills.

The money for the payout is taken out of the death benefit and is disbursed as a lump sum. If you die, your beneficiaries will receive whatever is left of the death benefit when they file a claim on your policy. There are a few types of critical illness riders:

Chronic illness insurance rider

Chronic illness riders pay out accelerated benefits while you’re still alive if you are no longer able to perform at least two of the six activities of daily living (ADLs) — eating, bathing, getting dressed, toileting, transferring, and continence.

Long-term care (LTC) insurance rider

A traditional life insurance policy with a long-term care (LTC) rider is called a hybrid long-term care policy. The rider will pay out your death benefit for long-term care while you're alive if you can no longer perform two of the six activities of daily living. Adding LTC coverage often comes at a high additional cost and is priced based on your health at the time of purchase, not a flat fee like some other riders.

Waiver of premium for disability insurance rider

A waiver of premium insurance rider waives your life insurance policy’s premium payments if you become disabled and can no longer work. This rider can add $10 to $50 per month to your premiums.

Family insurance riders

Family insurance riders offer additional coverage for members of your family, like your children or your spouse. The two types are:

Spousal insurance rider

If you don’t have a separate policy for your spouse, a spousal income rider ensures that if your spouse dies you’ll receive a death benefit. Spousal coverage, either through a rider or separate policy, is important even if your spouse doesn’t earn an income or isn’t the primary breadwinner, because you'll still have to cover the costs of household labor they do, like childcare. While a spouse rider may cost less than a separate policy, it may also provide less coverage.

Child insurance rider

A child insurance rider provides a death benefit if your child passes away. While most children don’t need life insurance, a child insurance rider can cover funeral costs for grieving parents or secure coverage for children with medical conditions that might make getting a policy more difficult when they’re older. Most child insurance riders can be converted into permanent insurance policies once the child enters adulthood. On average, child insurance riders cost an additional $5.60 per month.

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Accidental death and dismemberment insurance riders

Accidental death and dismemberment insurance riders are for people who have riskier lifestyles, such as a dangerous job or hobby that will increase your premium. The AD&D rider pays you money from the death benefit if you lose a limb or digit in an accident. If you die, it pays out to your beneficiaries. Because of the strict parameters under which the death or injury must occur to get a payout, an accidental death and dismemberment insurance rider usually isn’t worth the cost.

Benefit structure insurance riders

While long-term care riders help you manage unexpected illness or disability, benefit structure insurance riders trigger adjustments to the policy itself. Benefit structure insurance riders include:

Return-of-premium insurance rider

The return-of-premium insurance rider ensures that if you outlive your life insurance policy, you’ll be refunded any premiums that you paid toward the policy. The refund is tax-free and some people use it as a forced savings vehicle, but these riders are expensive and might not be a worthwhile add on. Premiums are higher than for a standard term life policy and won’t earn interest like savings you put in a bank or investment account.

Term conversion insurance rider

Term conversion riders are included in most term life insurance policies. These riders allow you to convert your term policy into whole life insurance when your policy expires. This can be useful for older adults who want to maintain some life insurance coverage when their policy’s term is set to expire, but don’t want to go through underwriting again to get a brand new policy.

Family income rider

A family income rider adjusts how the death benefit will be paid out to your family if you die while the policy is active. With this rider, instead of one lump sum, the policy pays out part of the death benefit in monthly installments, like an income. Some insurers also sell standalone family income policies if you want your entire death benefit handled this way. The pricing varies based on the amount of additional coverage you buy. If you think your beneficiary would be better off receiving some of the death benefit in smaller, predictable chunks rather than one large lump sum, this rider creates that payout structure.

Guaranteed insurability rider

The guaranteed insurability rider allows you to increase the size of your death benefit at specific life milestones. The "option dates" when you can buy more coverage vary but usually occur every three or five years from the day your policy went in force and within 30 to 90 days of a major life event, such as getting married or having a baby. You will have to pay more for the increase in coverage, but you won’t have to go through underwriting or take a new medical exam before your policy's cutoff age, which is usually between age 40 and 50. After that, you can still add coverage, but you'll have to take a medical exam.

Guaranteed insurability riders are not offered for every life insurance policy, and are most commonly added on to whole life insurance policies. Guaranteed insurability riders can be as low as an additional $3 to $5 per month. Most people don’t need a guaranteed insurability rider because they need less life insurance as they get older and their health won’t worsen significantly before age 40 to 50. The rider is best used by people who have a chronic illness or other condition that may worsen, a family history of serious illness that could affect them before age 45, or want a permanent policy and plan to increase their coverage in the future.

Are life insurance riders worth it?

Not all life insurance riders are created equal. While some can add extra value to your life insurance policy, others cost more than they're worth.

For example, a term conversion insurance rider extends your coverage and is a worthwhile add-on because it comes at no additional cost. A waiver of premium rider, on the other hand, is costly and doesn't actually save you money based on the interest you're losing out on if you invested the cost of rider, so it’s often not worth the extra money. 

Whether or not a life insurance rider is worth it depends on your specific needs and largely depends on your specific financial and personal situation. If you don’t want to pay for a separate policy like AD&D or disability insurance, a rider offers some of the same protections at a potentially lower cost. Or, if you think your child will have difficulty getting life insurance coverage in the future, then a child rider may make sense for you.

The best way to learn more about the availability and pricing of riders is by working with an insurance agent or broker. An expert can let you know what life insurance riders are available to you, help you decide if you should get them based on your individual circumstances, and quote rider costs based on your projected health classification.

Frequently asked questions

What is a rider on life insurance?

A life insurance rider offers additional coverage to create a more robust protection plan for you and your loved ones.

Can you add a rider to an existing life insurance policy?

No. You must add on riders to your policy when you are initially purchasing the policy. You cannot add a life insurance rider to an already active life insurance policy. Speak to the life insurance agent you're working with about what riders you need in your policy.

What are the benefits of life insurance riders?

Life insurance riders offer the advantage of extra financial protection that isn’t a part of your standalone life insurance coverage. With a rider, you can be better prepared for unexpected circumstances, such as a disability.

What are the disadvantages of life insurance riders?

Riders that don’t come with your policy for free can be costly, difficult to qualify for, and may not offer enough coverage.

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

Financial Advisor

Maria Filindras

Financial Advisor

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Maria Filindras is a financial advisor, a licensed Life & Health insurance agent in California, and a member of the Financial Review Council at Policygenius.

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