Life Insurance Meaning: Definition, Benefits & How It Works
A life insurance policy is a legal contract between the insurer (Insurance provider) and an individual (policyholder). Under the contract, the insurance company pays a policy benefit if the event that the policy covers occurs. In exchange for the same, the policyholder pays consideration to the insurance company, which is called insurance premium4.
For instance, say an individual buys a life insurance policy for Rs. 50 lakhs for 20 years. If the life insured happens to die within the policy tenure, i.e. the period of 20 years, the insurer would pay the sum assured, i.e. Rs 50 lakhs, to the nominee, subject to the terms and conditions of the policy, and the plan would be terminated. However, in some plans, If the insured person survives the entire duration of the plan, a maturity benefit along with accrued bonuses, if applicable, would be paid to the policyholder, and the policy would be terminated.
However, life insurance plans follow the basic principles12 of insurance, such as Utmost Good Faith and Insurable Interest.
How Does Life Insurance Work?
An individual may choose from the different life insurance plans available based on his needs. He also chooses other policy details like the -
- Sum assured
- Policy term
- Premium paying term
- Premium paying frequency
In some cases, the premium is determined based on the policy details selected and the risk of covering the individual. The other key factors that determine the premium include the following –
- The sum assured selected
- The policy tenure
- The premium paying tenure and frequency
- Age of the life insured
- Lifestyle habits (smoking, drinking, etc.)
- Past or existing medical conditions
- Family history
- Gender, etc.
However, in some cases, the policy specifies a minimum premium and the policyholder can choose to pay an amount as per their life goals. The policy benefits are, then, determined based on the premium paid. A common example is ULIP wherein you can pay a premium amount of your choice (subject to the specified minimum and maximum limits). Based on the premium paid and the sum assured multiple chosen (if and where applicable), the sum assured is determined.
Each type of life insurance plan works differently. So, we need to understand the various types of life insurance plans available in India to understand how they work.
What are the Different Types of Life Insurance¹?
Besides knowing the meaning of life insurance, it is essential to have knowledge about the different types of plans available in the market. Below is a list of the different types of plans in the market.
1. Term Life Insurance:
A term life insurance plan is a simple life insurance plan that offers optimum coverage at affordable cost. If the life insured dies during the policy tenure, the entire amount of the sum assured is paid to the nominee, and the policy is terminated. However, If the insured person survives the entire duration of the plan, nothing is payable as a maturity benefit at the end of the policy tenure.
There is no maturity benefit under the term plans except in the case of term insurance plans with ROP (return of premium) option, wherein the premium paid is refunded, if the insured person survives the policy tenure.
2. Whole Life Insurance:
As the name implies, whole life insurance covers you for your whole life, i.e., for 99 or 100 years of age. The insurer pays the death benefit if the life insured dies during the policy tenure. Some plans also have a maturity benefit which is paid if the insured survives the policy tenure.
3. Endowment Plan:
Endowment plans are savings-oriented life insurance plans that help you create a guaranteed corpus for your financial goals. These plans pay either a guaranteed* death benefit on premature death or a maturity benefit if the insured survives the tenure. Some endowment plans also offer bonus, if declared, that enhance the plan benefits.
Thus, in endowment plans, if the life insured happens to die within the plan's duration, the entire sum assured, along with accrued bonuses, if applicable, would be paid to the nominee, and the policy would be terminated. However, if the life insured survives the policy tenure, maturity benefit, along with loyalty additions and accrued bonuses, if applicable, would be paid to the policyholder, and the policy would then be terminated.
4. Unit Linked Insurance Plan or ULIP:
ULIPs are a mix of both investment and insurance plans. A policyholder has the benefit of investing in funds that are linked to the market, along with getting insurance coverage.
Thus, in a ULIP, the policyholder pays a premium for life insurance coverage for a specific duration, i.e. policy tenure, and has the advantage of choosing the market-linked funds he would like to invest according to his risk appetite and financial goals. ULIPs are known for their flexibility and market-linked investment opportunity across various asset classes such as equity, debt, balanced, etc. Moreover, you can switch between funds, make partial withdrawals, pay top-up premiums, etc. and manage your investments accordingly, subject to terms and conditions of the policy.
5. Money-Back Policy2:
Money-back policies are a kind of life insurance that offers money-back benefits at regular and pre-determined intervals. Thus, in a money-back plan, you get insurance coverage and regular payouts as a survival benefit and a maturity benefit.
However, if the life insured happens to die within the plan's duration, the entire death benefit, i.e. the sum assured, would be paid to the nominee irrespective of the money-back payouts already made. So, money-back plans are savings-oriented life insurance plans that also provide interim liquidity.
6. Retirement Plan
Retirement plans help create a corpus for retirement. There are two main types of plans - deferred annuity and immediate annuity plans.
Deferred annuity plans help you create a corpus by saving over the policy period. Under these plans, the insurance policy promises to pay the annuitant a regular or lump sum payout at a future date. You can create a retirement corpus which is then used for annuity payouts based on the choice of the annuity.
On the other hand, immediate annuity plans usually start paying immediately after you buy the policy. You pay a lump sum to buy the immediate annuity plan, and the plan starts making guaranteed* payments based on your choice of an annuity from the available options.
7. Child Insurance Plan3
Child insurance plans could be traditional endowment plans, money-back plans, or unit-linked insurance plans. Basically, these are plans designed for the benefit of a child’s financial future. The parent is usually the life insured while the child is the beneficiary under these plans.
Some child insurance plans come with the premium waiver benefit, wherein if the parent dies during the policy duration, the insurer would waive off the future premiums, and the plan would continue to pay the benefits as per the original schedule of the plan. Child insurance plans may, thus, help in securing a child’s financial future whether the parent is around or not.
What are the Benefits of Life Insurance?
Life insurance is a tool that may pave the way for a secure, peaceful and rewarding life for you and your family. Here are a few ways how life insurance benefits policyholders:
- It may help your loved ones meet the life goals you have set for them even in your absence
- Child insurance plans can help secure your child’s financial future in your absence
- The investment component of plans like ULIPs may help grow your wealth, to fulfill your dreams like buying a home, investing in real estate, going for a world tour, etc.
- If you buy life insurance with add-ons like critical illness riders, you may be able to pay for the related medical expenses using the sum received under the rider
- Retirement plans can help to financially secure your post-retirement days, and also allow you to pursue your interests and hobbies post-retirement
- You may avail tax benefits on the premiums you pay and the proceeds from a life insurance policy, under relevant sections, as per the provisions of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
Factors that Determine Your Life Cover
A simple way to determine the approximate life cover or sum assured in your life insurance policy is calculating Human Life Value (HLV). HLV could give you an idea of how much insurance cover you would need so that your loved ones can live a comfortable life in your absence. However, one needs to evaluate their needs in detail to be able to decide the cover that would suit them as per their current lifestyle. You need to take note of all the following factors to determine coverage:
- Total monthly household and lifestyle expenses
- Outstanding liabilities such as loans, credit card debts, etc.
Add both these components and you can reach an approximate amount of life insurance coverage that you may need. Do not forget to factor the cost of inflation.
Generally speaking, you may have a life cover of at least 10 times your annual income to ensure that your loved ones meet their life goals without any hindrances11. You should take into account inflation, new responsibilities, healthcare costs and increasing expenses as per life stages to arrive at a correct figure. Once you arrive at that figure, you can use a life insurance calculator to calculate the premium you may need to pay to achieve your life goals.
How to Select a Life Insurance Policy?
Now that you know what is life insurance, how it works, and its different types, you need to know how to choose a policy that will suit your needs. Here are some tips -
1. Determine your life insurance goals:
Identify your financial goals and then choose suitable plans that would help in fulfilling such goals. For instance, if financial protection is the main goal, you may invest in a term insurance plan. Alternatively, if you want to create a corpus for your child, a child insurance plan may be suitable, and if you want to plan for retirement, you may opt for a pension plan.
Tip: Thus, mapping your life insurance objectives to the plan may help you determine the plan's overall objective and select the type of plan you need.
2. Analyse the optimal insurance cover:
An optimal sum assured may help fill the financial gap that the breadwinner’s premature demise might cause. That is why estimating the right coverage under the life insurance policy is important.
Tip: To do so, assess your financial goals, liabilities and needs. Then find out how much sum assured would be sufficient to fulfil your goals. You can use life insurance calculators that help in determining the premium payable for the required coverage amount.
3. Choose a suitable tenure:
Based on the timeline of your financial goals, choose a suitable tenure of the plan so that you can get coverage while creating a corpus for your goals.
4. Enhance your coverage:
You can choose to enhance your life insurance coverage with the add-ons or the riders pertaining to the type of insurance policy that you opt for. Riders can be opted for, on payment of nominal additional premium.
Tip: Riders may be worth the incremental cost you need to pay if the benefit of the same enhances your overall coverage.
5. Opt for a plan early on:
Since the life insurance premium does not increase with age, it may be preferred to opt for a life insurance plan early on in life, as the premium remains fixed throughout the tenure.
6. Choose a plan according to your needs:
There are multiple types of life insurance plans which cater to various needs. So, you need to weigh the pros and cons of each plan carefully before opting for the plan that best suits your needs.
Tip: You may opt for multiple life insurance plans to meet different financial goals, i.e. child insurance plan for your child’s financial future, an annuity plan for your retired life, etc.
7. Assess your insurance needs regularly:
It is a good practice to assess your insurance requirements from time to time as the insurance need may change due to a change in your life stage, need, requirements, etc.
Tip: You can always opt for an additional life insurance plan at a later point in time to enhance your coverage.
8. Read the fine print:
Each life insurance plan has certain terms and conditions which need to be carefully read and understood before opting for the same.
Tip: Read the policy document carefully when you receive the same so that you are completely aware of all terms and conditions and not taken by surprise at the time of claim!
Keeping these points in mind, you will be able to select the suitable plan that meets your life insurance requirements.
What is Life Insurance Premium?
While the life insurance company undertakes to insure you against the risk of premature demise or pay a benefit on maturity, you have to pay a premium for the policy that you buy.
The premium includes the cost of mortality risk (risk of premature demise) and a saving element if the insurance policy offers a maturity benefit.
Life insurance plans allow three premium payment modes which are as follows -
- Regular premiums - wherein you pay the premium throughout the term of the policy
- Limited premium - wherein you pay the premium for a limited tenure while the policy runs longer
- Single premium - wherein you pay the premium in one lump sum at the time of buying the policy
Depending on the premium payment modes offered by the life insurance policy, you may choose a suitable one to ensure the premiums are affordable.
How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?
When it comes to buying a life insurance policy, it is recommended to opt for an adequate sum assured so that you are sufficiently covered. But what is the adequate sum assured? The adequacy of the sum assured depends on a lot of factors and is different for different individuals. These factors may include the following -
- Income and expenses
- Existing financial assets
- Existing liabilities
- Financial goals
- The number of dependents, etc.
There are different methods to calculate the right life insurance coverage for your needs. For instance, one simple way to determine life insurance coverage is a multiple of your annual income. Under this mode, a minimum of 10 times to 126 times your annual income makes for an adequate sum assured.
There are other modes of calculating your coverage needs as well. Alternatively, online calculators help you find a suitable sum assured based on the details you enter. You can use the calculator to assess how much life insurance you would need.
Given its benefits and the coverage that it provides, life insurance may prove to be a valuable addition to your portfolio. So, understand the life insurance meaning and consider buying a suitable policy for financial protection as well as goal fulfilment. You can also save taxes with life insurance plans as the premium paid and the payouts received may have tax-saving benefits under the applicable provisions of Income Tax Act, 19615. Also, build your insurance portfolio to be financially protected against the challenges that life throws at you.
1. Is it necessary to buy life insurance?
It is not mandated under law to buy a life insurance policy. However, given the benefits that life insurance provides, buying it may be considered. With a life insurance policy, you can cover the risk of premature demise and get financial assistance against unforeseen contingencies. The plans help in saving tax under Income Tax Act 1961 and also create a corpus for your financial goals.
2. What is the tax benefit on life insurance?
Some tax benefits on life insurance, under Income Tax Act, 1961 (‘Act’) are as follows -
- Premiums paid for a life insurance policy qualify as a deduction under Section 80C up to Rs.1.5 lakhs, subject to provisions stated therein5
- In the case of pension plans, premiums paid are allowed as a deduction under Section 80CCC of the Act7.
- The death benefit received is always tax-free8.
- The maturity benefit also qualifies for tax exemption under Section 10(10D) if specified conditions are fulfilled8.
- For traditional life insurance plans, the maturity benefit will be allowed as a tax-free benefit if the annual premiums paid do not exceed Rs.5 lakhs in aggregate9. This is, however, applicable for policies issued on or after 1st April 20239.
- In the case of ULIPs, if the policy is issued on or after 1st February 2021, the maturity benefit will be tax-free if the aggregate annual premium paid under all ULIPs does not exceed Rs.2.5 lakhs10. If the annual premium exceeds Rs.2.5 lakhs, the returns earned would be subject to capital gains tax10.
3. Who is a nominee in life insurance?
A nominee is an individual or an entity appointed by the policyholder to receive the death benefits if the life insured passes away during the policy tenure.
4. Can I change/add another nominee to my life insurance policy?
Yes, you can change or add another nominee to your life insurance policy. This alteration can be done through an endorsement of your existing plan. If you add another nominee, you must also specify the proportion of benefit payable to each nominee.
5. Is there an age limit for life insurance?
Yes, different life insurance policies specify the maximum and minimum age at which you can buy the plan. Usually, life insurers provide term insurance in the age range of 18 to 60 years, whereas some insurers may also offer a policy till age at entry of 65 years.
6. How to claim life insurance after the death of the policyholder?
The death benefit in a life insurance policy is payable after the life insured dies. If the policyholder is also the life insured, then the claim would be admissible if the policyholder dies. Else, the claim would be payable only if the life insured dies.
In the case of a death claim, the nominee should inform the insurance company of the insured’s death. The nominee should fill out and submit a claim form along with the required documents. The insurance company would check and verify the documents and then settle the claim, based on the terms & conditions of the policy.
7. Can I surrender my life insurance policy before death?
Some life insurance policies allow the surrender option wherein you can surrender the life insurance policy before death or maturity and get a surrender value or cash value. So, you can cash your life insurance policy before death if the policy allows the surrender feature subject to specified terms and conditions. Moreover, in some plans, like ULIPs, there might be a surrender charge if you surrender the policy during the lock-in period of 5 years.
Though available, surrendering the life insurance policy is usually not preferred. This is because the cash value of the policy may be low and you may also lose out on the coverage benefits.
8. What is the meaning of paid-up in life insurance?
If you discontinue paying the premiums in your life insurance policy, your policy might be converted to a paid-up plan. The paid-up benefit is available in some life insurance policies only if you pay a minimum number of premiums.
When the policy becomes paid up, the benefits payable on death or maturity reduce. You can continue the coverage without paying the premium at the paid-up value. Future bonuses, if applicable, are not added to the plan, but previously added bonuses would be paid under the paid-up policy. However, there are certain conditions to follow before converting to a paid-up insurance policy.
9. At what age should I buy a life insurance policy?
It may be preferred to buy a life insurance policy as early as possible so that you can get early coverage and also create a corpus for your financial goals if you have opted for a savings-oriented life insurance plan.
10. What is critical illness cover in life insurance?
A critical illness cover is an optional rider that is available with some life insurance policies. This rider covers a list of named critical illnesses and treatments, wherein, If the life insured is diagnosed with any of the listed illnesses, the insurer pays a lump sum benefit to help the policyholder deal with the financial loss suffered. Riders can be opted on payment of additional nominal premium.
4. https://www.insuranceinstituteofindia.com/downloads/IC38/ALEnglish.pdf (Page 80)
12. https://www.insuranceinstituteofindia.com/downloads/IC38/ALEnglish.pdf (page 83 and 88)
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