A Guide to Buying Life Insurance for Seniors

Consider your financial goals, age and overall health to determine which life insurance option is right for you.
Georgia Rose
By Georgia Rose 
Edited by Lisa Green Reviewed by Tony Steuer

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Seniors may have a tough time finding the ideal life insurance policy, but worthwhile coverage options do exist — whether you want to cover final expenses or leave a lump sum for your family.

While it’s true that life insurance policies become more costly as you age, many insurers will accommodate older adults, even if you’re not in perfect health. Here’s what you need to know about shopping for life insurance as a senior.

Before you start shopping, check whether you need life insurance. If you’re debt-free and have healthy savings or funds set aside for final expenses, then you might not need coverage after all.

A life insurance policy might make sense if you:

  • Support a spouse, domestic partner, child or other dependents with your income.

  • Want to cover your own funeral and burial costs.

  • Have a high net worth and want to cover estate taxes.

  • Want to provide an inheritance to those you leave behind.

  • Leave a donation to charity.

Types of life insurance for seniors

Term life: Cheapest option

A term life insurance policy could be a good, low-cost option if you’re in great health for your age and willing to take a medical exam. Because term life is temporary, it’s most suitable for covering debts, such as a mortgage, or providing financial support for a spouse or dependent should you die during the policy term.

If you shop for life insurance in your 60s and 70s, you can typically secure a 10- or 20-year term life policy, but if you’re over 80, you’ll likely have difficulty finding term life coverage.

Whole life: Cash value component

Whole life insurance typically provides lifelong coverage, as long as you pay the premiums. It accumulates cash value over time. You can then withdraw the cash, or take out a loan against the value. However, it can take time for the cash value in life insurance to build — sometimes a decade or more.

This type of life insurance is typically more expensive than term products, especially if you purchase a policy later in life. This is because as you age, your life expectancy is shorter, meaning the insurer might have to pay out the policy sooner. Also, we tend to develop health issues over time, which can cause premiums to rise.

Guaranteed issue life insurance: No medical exam

Sometimes called senior life insurance or “final expense” insurance, guaranteed issue life insurance has no medical requirements for acceptance. Life insurance companies use medical exams to better understand your health and predict life expectancy, so policies that require them tend to be cheaper. However, if your health precludes you from qualifying for coverage, no-medical-exam life insurance such as simplified or guaranteed issue may be a worthwhile option. As life insurance medical exams are typically free, they may be worth it even if you’re not in perfect health.

These policies typically come with a two-year waiting period before full benefits are available, referred to as a graded death benefit or limited benefit period. Unless you die from accidental causes, your beneficiaries may not receive the full amount of death benefits from your policy during this two-year time frame. Instead, the insurer will either reimburse them for the premiums you paid plus interest, or pay out a smaller amount.

Alternatively, simplified issue life insurance skips the medical exam and instead requires you to fill out a health questionnaire. Coverage tends to be low, rarely going above $100,000.

Permanent life insurance: Other options

If you’re in the market for permanent life insurance, there are options beyond whole life insurance. These include:

  • Universal life insurance, which offers flexible premiums and death benefits.

  • Guaranteed universal life insurance, a form of universal life insurance with level premiums and death benefits. It has lower premiums than whole life, though the cash value buildup is minimal and you might need to take a medical exam to qualify.

  • Variable life insurance, which has a flexible death benefit and allows you to choose the investments to direct your cash value into.

  • Variable universal life insurance, which comes with adjustable premiums and also allows you to choose investments for the cash value portion of your policy.

  • Survivorship life insurance, which typically insures two spouses and pays out when the second person dies. This type of policy is also known as second-to-die joint life insurance.

Funeral insurance: Pays for your funeral only

Another option for seniors is funeral insurance, which is also called pre-need insurance. These plans are typically purchased from funeral homes, and the payout goes directly to the funeral home to cover the cost of prearranged services.

Funeral insurance is different from burial insurance, which pays the death benefit to life insurance beneficiaries of your choosing who can then use the money for any purpose.

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Cost of life insurance for seniors

Finding cheap life insurance for seniors is not always easy, as the cost of coverage typically increases as you age. But affordable options may be available, especially if you’re in good health. Here’s the average cost of life insurance for older adults, including seniors over 80:

Average monthly life insurance rates for senior women

Policy type

65-year-old woman 

75-year-old woman 

85-year-old woman

10-year term life ($100,000)

$66

$191

n/a

Whole life ($100,000)

$349

$623

$1,345

Guaranteed universal life ($100,000)

$254

$471

$1,162

Simplified issue whole life ($10,000)

$47

$82

$153

Guaranteed issue whole life ($10,000)

$66

$114

$221

Source: Quotacy. Average rates are from three top carriers, for healthy applicants.

Average monthly life insurance rates for senior men

Policy type

65-year-old man 

75-year-old man

85-year-old man

10-year term life ($100,000)

$89

$269

n/a

Whole life ($100,000)

$414

$712

$1,579

Guaranteed universal life ($100,000)

$294

$545

$1,398

Simplified issue whole life ($10,000)

$62

$113

$228

Guaranteed issue whole life ($10,000)

$88

$150

$233

Source: Quotacy. Average rates are from three top carriers, for healthy applicants.

How to shop for senior life insurance

When deciding what type of life insurance to buy, first consider your financial goals and how much cash you’ll need to accomplish them. For example, a term life policy could cover mortgage payments or other outstanding debts that would become the responsibility of others when you die. If your goal is to pay for funeral expenses, you might consider a small whole life policy or burial insurance, as the death benefit pays out regardless of when you die. Or maybe you want to leave a sizable inheritance to your loved ones with a guaranteed universal life policy.

Before buying a policy:

  1. Shop around. Compare monthly premiums and death benefits to ensure you’re getting the right policy for your budget and financial goals. When you’re comparison shopping, be sure to disclose your medical history to get the most accurate quote. Insurers have different life insurance underwriting standards, so it’s important to know where they stand on various health conditions. As a senior, if you have heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes or kidney disease, you might end up with a more expensive premium or be declined coverage for a traditional policy. In that case, there are other options available to you, such as guaranteed issue life insurance.

  2. Work with a fee-only life insurance consultant to make sure you choose a policy that fits your situation, especially if you plan to purchase life insurance with a cash value component.

  3. Read the fine print carefully. Make note of important details, such as which causes of death aren't covered and what will happen if you can’t pay premiums.

Determine if you need a rider

Life insurance riders are features that can be added to a policy, sometimes for an extra cost. Riders vary by company and policy, but include:

  • Accelerated death benefit riders, which allow you to access a portion of your policy’s payout if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. There are similar riders that pay out if you’re diagnosed with a critical or chronic illness, or need nursing home or round-the-clock care.

  • Long-term care riders, which help cover the cost of an in-home care provider or nursing home.

  • Child riders, which provide death benefits for young children of the policyholder, should they die during the policy period.

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