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Can a life insurance claim be denied for drug use?

The answer is complicated. Here’s what you need to know

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Drug use is a complicated topic. On the one hand, drugs like marijuana have achieved more widespread acceptance in the past few years, in part because they’re relatively low-risk, and might even have benefits for some users. (For example, those experiencing glaucoma or post-traumatic stress disorder.)

On the other hand, the United States is undoubtedly experiencing an epidemic of harmful drug use — in 2022, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated 103,550 deaths in the U.S. over the 12-month period from November 2021 to November 2022 were due to drug overdose.

So you might be wondering: How do insurers view drug use? Is there one blanket policy for drug use? And if you or someone you know were to die, would drug use complicate the payout of a death benefit, or cause a claim to be denied altogether?

Here’s what you need to know. Like we said, it’s a complicated topic.

In this article:

Life insurance and drug use

Let’s start at the beginning. If you are applying for life insurance, what do you need to disclose about past or present drug use?

Past drug use

One constant piece of advice is to be fully honest and transparent during the life insurance application process, whether it’s about illicit drug use or risky habits or anything else that might be relevant.

The simple reason is that if you fail to disclose something, and your insurer discovers it during your application or after issuing a policy, that could cause the insurer to rescind its offer or a future claim. This, obviously, would mean your loved ones don’t get a payout in the event of your death, which of course is the entire point of life insurance.

In regards to drug use specifically, you of course need to be honest about smoking habits, and how often alcohol you drink (and how much).

The same principle applies to using substances. In general, so long as you don’t have a history of substance abuse, you’ll be able to get coverage — even if you drink alcohol or consume marijuana recreationally.

But if you do have a history of substance abuse (especially with hard drugs like heroin, cocaine, meth, or non-prescription painkillers), you might not qualify for a policy unless you’ve been drug free or out of a rehabilitation clinic for several years. Even then, it’s possible you might pay more for coverage.

Current drug use

As part of applying for life insurance, most applicants will take a life insurance medical exam. During this exam, you will be tested for drug use and abuse. You can (and should!), of course, disclose drug use and/or abuse when asked on your application, but know that the exam will likely reveal substance use and/or abuse as well.

If you use marijuana, know that smoking it might result in a higher premium (because it’s a form of smoking) than other forms of intake. Again, transparency is your friend here. (Also, note that HIPAA protections mean your potential insurer cannot share your medical information, including marijuana use, with the police or your employer without your permission.)

And similar to above, if you are currently abusing drugs (including alcohol), you will almost certainly be denied life insurance coverage. (Also, help is available. Call or text 988, or chat at 988lifeline.org.)

Wondering about medicines? Again, you’ll want to disclose any prescribed medications when asked on your application, and any medicines you are using will be detected from the blood and urine tests during your life insurance medical exam.

When can drug use cause a claim to be rescinded?

So now the big question: If you are using drugs and die — or if you are the beneficiary of a policy owned by someone who uses drugs and dies — can the claim be rescinded?

Guess what? It’s complicated. Here are three possible situations:

If someone uses drugs, but dies from something else

While substance abuse comes with an increased morbidity rate, it’s certainly possible that something else could cause your death during a time when you are regularly using or abusing drugs. For example, you could be completely sober and riding in a car that’s hit by another driver. If something like this were to happen to an insured person, and the contestability period has ended, the insurer would most likely pay out the life insurance claim.

If this happens during the contestability period, it’s possible the claim will be rescinded.

If someone uses drugs, and dies from an overdose

This depends. Again, if you were honest on your application, about drug use / abuse and everything else, most life insurance claims will pay out, even in the event of death due to a drug overdose.

That said, if you (or the insured) were dishonest on your application, your life insurance claim will almost certainly be denied.

And if the death is due to an intentional overdose, and it occurs during the contestability period — a time, generally two years, when an insurer can contest a beneficiary’s claim — it is likely your insurer would deny the claim. (On a related note, if you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, visit 988lifeline.org to get help.)

If someone uses drugs, and dies from something indirectly related

Overdoses aren’t the only way drug use can lead to death. If you get behind the wheel while under the influence, for example, you might die in a car accident. In a case like that, there also might be a toxicology report that proves you were incapacitated.

If this happens during the contestability period, your insurer would conduct a contestable claim review to determine if benefits will be paid.. After that period, the insurer might be less likely to contest the claim, given the higher burden of proof, but is that really a risk you want to take?

Final thoughts

Long story short, you should be as transparent as possible about drug use, past and present, when applying for life insurance. If you are currently having a problem with substance abuse, please get help. And if something does happen to you or a loved one due to substance use or abuse, there is a possibility that a life insurance claim will be rescinded.

That all said, if you are a recreational drinker or marijuana user, you might still qualify for life insurance. You will pay a higher premium, yes, but you’ll also have term life insurance coverage in place in case the worst should happen to you. Start by getting a free online life insurance quote, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having financial protection in place for you and your loved ones.

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About Scott Nevil

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit: https://havenlife.com/plus

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