What is a life insurance rider?


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

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Riders offer supplemental coverage to your life insurance policy and accommodate unexpected events that aren’t built into your policy. Some common types of life insurance riders — like the term conversion rider, are included for free. But most others cost extra.

Oftentimes, a standalone insurance policy is going to offer more coverage than a rider will. But some add-ons might be worth the additional cost, depending on your needs. When you’re purchasing your life insurance policy, your agent or broker can help you determine what customizations you need.

Learn more about what riders you can choose from:

Accelerated death benefit insurance riders

Accelerated death benefit insurance riders (ADB) take money from the death benefit to help you with 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 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 for Daily Living (ADL) — eating, bathing, getting dressed, toileting, transferring, and continence. [1] A medical professional must certify that the disability is permanent.

Long-term care (LTC) insurance rider

Hybrid long-term care policies offers money for long-term care if you can no longer perform two of the six activities for daily living.

Adding LTC often comes at a high additional cost, but the policy will keep paying for your care until you die even if your long-term care expenses end up being more than the value of your original death benefit.

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. Each life insurance company has its own definition of a disability, which can make it difficult to qualify.

Disability insurance is a better option for more robust protection. With disability insurance, you’ll receive regular payments that will replace the income you lost while disabled.

Family insurance riders

Family insurance riders offer additional coverage for members of your family, like your children or your spouse. You pay extra to have the rider pay out the death benefit to you if the person named in the rider dies.

Spousal insurance rider

A spousal income rider ensures that if your spouse dies you’ll receive a death benefit, like your beneficiaries would if you die. It's worth getting 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, if they die.

Spousal riders are less expensive than taking out a separate policy for your spouse, but that’s because they offer lower coverage. If you truly want to make sure your entire household is protected from the loss of your spouse’s financial contribution, your spouse should buy their own life insurance policy.

Child insurance riders

Most children don’t need life insurance. But child insurance riders can cover the unthinkable if you need to pay for your child's funeral.

Child insurance riders cost an additional $5.60 per month on average. They can be added to your policy when your child is about two weeks old and the term of the rider ends when they turn 18 (or up to 25 for some insurers).

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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.

Return-of-premium insurance rider

The return-of-premium insurance rider refunds the premiums you paid if you outlive the term of your policy. These can be expensive to tack on — sometimes triple your original premiums — because you pay an additional fee to get some of the cash back from your insurance company.

Although you get all that money back at the end of the term, you won’t get back the various administrative fees that can add up. You’re better off simply paying low premiums now and investing the equivalent of return-of-premium costs into a retirement account that will earn interest.

Term conversion insurance rider

At the end of your term life insurance policy’s term, if you find that you still need coverage, you can convert a term life insurance policy into a permanent or whole life insurance policy with a term conversion rider. Permanent policies last until you die and have a cash value that you can access while you're alive.

You’ll pay a higher rate to extend your coverage for the rest of your life, but because of your age and potentially declining health, it may be cheaper to convert your policy than to reapply for a new one. And with a term conversion rider, you won’t have to worry about paying more if your health has changed.

Guaranteed insurability rider

The guaranteed insurability rider allows you to increase the size of your death benefit to a predetermined amount at specific intervals. Such milestones include reaching a certain age or after the policy has been in force for a certain number of years. Major life events, like marriage or having a baby, also trigger an increase of the death benefit.

It’s useful if you don’t need much coverage now, but may need more as you get older and have a mortgage and kids’ college tuition to think about.

You will have to pay more for the increase in coverage, but you won’t have to take a new medical exam and your health won’t be taken into account — which means you won’t get lower rates if your health declines.

Are life insurance riders worth it?

Not all life insurance riders are created equal. While some can be a vital supplement to your life insurance policy, others cost more than they're worth.

For example, a term conversion insurance rider can ensure that you have adequate coverage even when your policy's term ends and is a worthwhile add-on because it comes at no additional cost. A waiver of premium rider, on the other hand, can be costly and hard to qualify for, which is why it's usually not recommended. Whether or not a life insurance rider is worth it depends on your life insurance needs.

The best way to determine what riders you should add to your life insurance policy is to speak with an independent broker like Policygenius about your individual circumstances. An agent can walk you through all your options and help you find the right one.

→ Check out common life insurance statistics to learn more policy basics

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?

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.