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How does family medical history affect my life insurance rates?

Family medical history and your life insurance application: what insurers ask, why they need to know, and how it can impact the cost of coverage.

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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 Smart Money Mamas, 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.

Adam Weinberg

About Adam Weinberg

Adam Weinberg is the Brand Director for Haven Life, where he’s working hard to make life insurance easy. Adam is a creative problem solver who uses unique brand moments to create meaningful customer experiences.  Adam has more than a decade of diverse editorial, marketing, and branding experience, including work on several award-winning campaigns for various digital media companies.

Read more by Adam Weinberg

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 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.html

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