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Converting a term life policy to a whole life policy
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A family income policy distributes the death benefit to your beneficiaries in monthly installments for a set period after you die, rather than in one lump sum.
With most life insurance policies, the death benefit — the portion of the money that’s paid out to your beneficiaries — works the same way. After you die, your beneficiaries file a claim with your life insurance company and the provider pays a tax-free lump sum of money to them. The beneficiaries are then free to do whatever they want with it.
A family income life insurance policy distributes the death benefit differently, treating the death benefit like a monthly income stream instead of a one-time payout. Most people are best suited with a traditional lump sum payment, but if a one-time payment would be stressful for your loved ones to manage and they’ll need very little financial support in the final years of your policy, then a family income policy might work for you.
Family income insurance lasts for a set term, then the policy expires
When you pass away, beneficiaries receive the death benefit in increments every month
Monthly benefit payments help beneficiaries who would find a lump sum payout overwhelming
The death benefit decreases the longer the policy is active, so most people get more value from a standard term life policy
A family income policy, sometimes called a family income benefit (FIB), is a form of term life insurance policy. The policy is active for a certain number of years (the term) and pays a death benefit if you die during the term or expires if you outlive the policy. But when you die, rather than a lump sum of money, the death benefit is paid out monthly. When you’re buying your policy, you’ll decide the size of the monthly payment and how long it lasts. For example, you might look at how much life insurance you need to support your spouse and children and decide you’d like them to receive $5,000, per month to replace lost income after you die.
It’s important to note that more specifically, a family income policy is a type of decreasing term life insurance, meaning the value of the death benefit decreases the longer you live. In the above example, if you die five years into a 20-year policy, it will pay out $5,000 a month for the next 15 years (a total of $900,000); but if the death occurs 15 years into the policy, the monthly $5,000 will be paid out for only five years ($300,000 total).
A family income policy is most useful if your loved ones would benefit from having the payout disbursed over a longer period of time. These policies work best if your family may need more money upfront but less down the line — to provide an income if you die while your spouse is still raising your children, for example — and won’t be negatively affected by the diminishing death benefit if you pass away later in the policy’s term.
With death benefits easily totaling $1 million or more, it can be difficult to decide how to use that large lump sum while navigating other end-of-life processes and grieving.
A family income policy replicates getting an income from the breadwinner, so it’s more true-to-life and not as jarring to a family that’s already dealing with huge changes. The policy is also structured so that it provides the support your beneficiaries need when they need it. It can be a safety net while your children are still growing, but won’t negatively impact your finances if you pass away later in the term, after you’ve saved for retirement and paid down your debts.
The biggest downside of a family income policy is that it decreases in value the longer you’re alive. Your beneficiaries receive installments depending on when you pass away, so they’ll get less benefit the longer the policy is active and unused.
Like other types of life insurance, the premiums you pay for family income life insurance are tied to how much coverage you want, your health, your financial situation, and your lifestyle. If you have risky hobbies or chronic health conditions, you’ll still be charged higher premiums, meaning you could pay the same or more than you would for traditional term life coverage and get less value from your policy in return.
A couple in good financial standing might not need a large insurance payout once their children are grown, but a life insurance policy can still cover existing debts or help your partner maintain their lifestyle if you pass away, which a policy with diminishing value can’t support as easily.
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If you prefer an insurance policy with a stable coverage amount but think a monthly death benefit distribution could help your beneficiaries, you may have the option to add a family income rider to a more standard policy. Family income riders work like a standalone family income policy, except that the monthly payment from a family income rider is paid in addition to the lump sum death benefit of your policy. Whether this rider comes at an extra cost varies by insurance provider.
You can also advise your beneficiaries to receive the death benefit as an annuity after you pass away. With this option the death benefit is used to purchase the annuity, a type of investment vehicle managed by the provider. The death benefit is disbursed to beneficiaries in installments over a term of their choosing (usually 10-20 years or the rest of their lives), like in a family income policy, but your beneficiaries receive the full benefit amount no matter when you die. Note that an annuity does raise some tax and investment considerations worth discussing with a financial adviser.
For most people, a standard term life insurance policy with a lump sum death benefit payout is the best and most straightforward option. A family income policy provides the death benefit in a unique way, but its decreasing value means your beneficiaries may not get as much financial support as they need. It’s better to name beneficiaries you trust to make a levelheaded decision with the insurance payout and make sure they know their options.
Family income insurance works like term life insurance, except for the death benefit payout. The policy lasts for a set number of years and if you die during that period, the death benefit pays out a set sum every month rather than the traditional lump sum payout.
Because the death benefit value decreases over time, most people should get traditional term life insurance. A family income benefit is best for a beneficiary that would find the lump sum payment overwhelming and who won’t need as much financial support toward the end of the policy term.
If you pass away, a family income policy pays the death benefit in installments for a set period of time. A family maintenance policy does the same, but also pays a lump sum at the end of the policy term.
Amanda Shih is a life insurance editor at Policygenius in New York City. She has a passion for making complex topics relatable and understandable, and has been writing about insurance since 2017 with specialities in life insurance cost and policy types. She's previously written for Jetty and LegalZoom.