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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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 offer supplemental coverage to your life insurance policy and protect you from unexpected events, like a terminal illness. Some common types of life insurance riders — like the term conversion rider, are included for free. But most others cost extra.

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 life insurance riders 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 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 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.

  • 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 even if your 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.

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. 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.

  • 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.

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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 are very expensive to tack on.

  • 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.

  • Guaranteed insurability rider: The guaranteed insurability rider allows you to increase the size of your death benefit to at specific life milestones, like getting married or having a baby. 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 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 hard to qualify for, so it's not worth the extra money. However, whether or not a life insurance rider is worth it depends on your specific 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.

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.