How does family medical history affect my life insurance rates?

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In the life insurance application process, it’s common for insurers to ask questions about your family’s medical history. Could your family’s medical history impact your life insurance premiums? In most cases, probably not. But life insurance companies still need to ask. Some medical conditions are genetic, and understanding your family history helps an insurer have a better understanding of your overall health and longevity.

If your family’s health record isn’t squeaky clean, don’t worry. The most important factor in your life insurance application is always your own health. However, since most life insurance companies will ask about your family health history (when you’re applying for medically underwritten coverage) the following will help you understand how that information is used to determine eligibility and pricing.

Why life insurance companies want to know your family history

Your health is impacted by more than your own actions. If all of your grandparents lived until their nineties and your parents are still out climbing Kilimanjaro, your chances of living a good long time might be better than the average person’s. But, unfortunately, the reverse can be true if your family’s health history isn’t as clean.

Family history is a piece of the underwriting puzzle. It helps to identify whether there is a strong pattern of mortality (a scary way of saying multiple family members have similar severe, genetic health issues at a young age).

With term life insurance policies, an insurer needs to understand an applicant’s probability of dying during the term length. Generally, the fewer assumptions a life insurance company is making about your health, the more likely it is that you’ll get competitive rates, which is why medically underwritten coverage is often a better value. It helps give an insurer a complete picture of your health and lifespan.

If a single medical issue exists, it’s not likely to impact your pricing or cause your application to be denied. However, if a pattern of health conditions exists, say, for example, your mother and sister have both had breast cancer, this could signal that the life insurer needs to learn more. In the latter scenario, it’s likely an Attending Physician Statement (APS) will be requested so the insurer can better understand how your family’s history might relate to you. This will extend the time it takes to either receive a final rate or decision on eligibility, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t qualify for the top rate class and best pricing for your age.

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What questions are asked in the life insurance application

A life insurance application will ask questions about your age, health, occupation, lifestyle and, yes, hereditary conditions in your immediate family. With Haven Life, those applying for a Haven Term policy — issued by our parent company MassMutual — you’ll be asked about conditions that have affected your mother, father, brother or sister.

Hereditary conditions on the application include types of cancer (like breast, colon or skin), diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Huntington disease, and similar genetic conditions.

If you answer yes to any of the screening questions, you’ll be asked to give additional information. This may include details such as your family member’s age when diagnosed, the severity of the condition, and whether they still have the condition or are deceased.

What if you don’t know?

Not all families talk about medical history. And if you were adopted or no longer in contact with your family, you may not have had a chance to ask these questions.

For people in those situations, the life insurance application has an “I don’t know” or “not sure” option that isn’t typically penalized from an underwriting perspective. But you should always be honest. It would take a pretty serious family medical history to get denied coverage but failing to reveal important information can invalidate your policy.

When possible, we recommend asking your family about their medical history. Understanding rates of cancer or rare disorders aren’t only relevant to buying life insurance. These insights can also help your doctor recommend the right preventative care treatment for you. Screenings and awareness are the first lines of defense for better long-term health. Additionally, if you do have a family history of these types of conditions, demonstrated monitoring and management can have a positive impact on the premiums you pay. Sometimes genetic test results can help as well if you have records that show you have tested negative for a particular condition.

Controlling what you can control

When it comes to reporting your family’s medical history on a life insurance application, remember that your age and current health matter more than any other factors.

Discover what you can about your family, always report it honestly, and focus on building or maintaining habits that help you live a healthy lifestyle.

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Chelsea Brennan is the founder of Mama Fish Saves, a personal finance blog that focuses on family finance, investing, and reducing money stress. Chelsea is an ex-hedge fund investor whose work has appeared in a wide array of publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and more.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC15DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Not all riders are available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is 0K71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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