Life Insurance Application: What You Need to Know

Life insurance applications ask detailed questions, and mistakes can be costly. Know what you need before starting.
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Written by Renee Deveney
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Reviewed by Tony Steuer
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Edited by Lisa Green
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Nerdy takeaways
  • A life insurance application is a legal document, so you’ll need to provide honest, accurate information.

  • You’ll be asked about your health, habits and family history.

  • To get the best rates, you may need to take a medical exam.

If you’ve been shopping for life insurance and have chosen the policy type, amount and company, you’re ready for the life insurance application. The process varies depending on the type of life insurance policy, but you can expect to answer important questions about your health and lifestyle.

Traditionally underwritten policies have more in-depth applications and often involve a medical exam. Some life insurance companies offer accelerated underwriting, which leverages technology to pull and analyze data and shorten the application process.

Life insurance medical and lifestyle questions

Life insurance companies want to know how likely it is that you will die while you’re covered. To figure out that risk, the application includes a series of questions about your health, lifestyle and the activities you engage in. Some insurers also ask about the health of immediate family members, such as parents and siblings. For an idea of what to expect, here are a few sample questions.

  • Have you seen a doctor, been hospitalized, had an illness or needed surgery within the past five years? Whether you’re completing a medical exam or not, most insurers want a full picture of your health history, so having your medical records handy can help you complete the application.

  • Do you or have you used tobacco or products containing nicotine? You’ll be asked a series of lifestyle questions about tobacco, alcohol and drug use, along with other risky habits like dangerous hobbies or professions.   

  • Have you ever been declined for life, health or disability insurance? Insurance companies use a database to confirm the information you’ve shared and see if you’ve been denied coverage by another carrier. You may still be eligible, even if you’ve been denied life insurance from another company.

  • How will you pay for your policy? You’ll need to provide information on how you plan to pay your annual or monthly life insurance premiums, whether from personal income, assets or a family member's income.

Did you know...

Lying on your life insurance application can lead to a denial of your application or a denial of benefits later on. Policies typically start with a life insurance “contestability period,” which is a two-year span when, if you die, the insurance company can dive into the details of your application and see if you omitted anything or lied. If you did, the insurer may deny the claim.

Your family’s health history

Since certain diseases among family members can affect your life expectancy, the life insurance company will want to know whether your parents or siblings have been diagnosed with or treated for conditions like:

  • Cancer.

  • Diabetes.

  • Heart disease.

  • Kidney disease.

  • Stroke.

If they have, know their age at the onset of the condition and, if they are deceased, their age at death. Insurers are mainly looking for earlier onset diseases, so if your parents died at an older age, this most likely won't matter. For instance, an insurer may ask if family members had heart disease or cancer before age 60 or 65, depending on the company.

Your medical history

Although you provided information about your health to get a life insurance quote, you’ll need to provide it again for the application. The insurer will use your medical records and information from a company called MIB Group (formerly the Medical Information Bureau) to verify everything.

Have the name, address and phone number of your primary physician and the physician you last saw, along with the date of your last visit.

Be prepared to report the date, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and date of recovery for a wide variety of medical conditions. The list will be long and includes:

  • Anemia.

  • Asthma.

  • Brain disorders or falls.

  • Cancer, tumors and cysts.

  • Chest pain.

  • Diabetes.

  • High blood pressure.

  • High cholesterol.

  • AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes it.

  • Leukemia.

  • Mental or emotional disorders.

  • Problems with eyes, ears, nose or throat.

  • Ulcer.

MIB maintains a database of health conditions reported on applications made in the last seven years for individual life, health, long-term care and other insurance types. Suppose you previously applied for a life insurance policy and stated you had been treated for cancer and your new application doesn’t mention the cancer treatment. In that case, MIB will raise a red flag and the life insurer will likely want to investigate further.

Did you know...

Life insurance companies use MIB because it collects health information from many life and health insurance companies. However, not every insurer feeds data to MIB. You can get your own MIB file to check its accuracy.

Your lifestyle

Insurers will also want to learn more about your lifestyle, daily habits and if you participate in high-risk activities. Be prepared to answer questions about:

  • Current medication. You’ll be asked to disclose any prescription medications you use. Be sure to list the full name of the medication, the dosage and the frequency.

  • Drug and alcohol use. The life insurance application will ask about past use of illegal drugs, current alcohol consumption and whether you’ve ever been advised to seek addiction treatment.

  • Criminal history. The life insurance company will typically ask if you have any criminal convictions or a history of a suspended driver’s license, moving violations or DUI. If you do, know the dates — insurers are generally only interested in events for a certain time period, such as the past five years.

  • Risky activities. Piloting a plane, rock climbing, ice climbing, hang gliding, scuba diving, skydiving and car racing can all increase your chance of death, so the life insurance application will ask if you have participated or intend to participate in those. Risky hobbies will typically boost your life insurance premiums or may result in a denial.

  • Travel. The application will ask if you’ve recently traveled outside the U.S. or plan to in the next year or two.

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Nonmedical life insurance questions

The life insurance company also needs to know some practical and logistical information when you apply for a policy.

Life insurance beneficiaries

When you buy a policy, you’ll designate your life insurance beneficiaries on the application. Beneficiaries are the people who receive any benefits from the insurance policy if you die while it’s in force. You can assign different percentages of the benefit to each of your beneficiaries. For instance, you could assign 70% to your spouse and 30% to your brother.

Be sure to have each beneficiary’s:

  • Full legal name.

  • Social Security number.

  • Date of birth.

You should also be prepared to designate a secondary beneficiary (known as a “contingent beneficiary”). This is the person who receives the benefit if the primary beneficiary dies before you do.

Payment frequency

The application will likely ask how often you want to be billed. Common choices are:

  • Single payment (one large lump sum).

  • Annually.

  • Twice a year.

  • Quarterly.

  • Monthly. 

Keep in mind the insurer might have service charges, to cover its administrative costs, if you choose a more frequent schedule.

Other life insurance policies

The company will want to know if you have other active life insurance policies or applications pending, and for how much coverage. If you seem to be applying for more life insurance than your situation calls for, the company will likely ask why.

Financial situation

The insurer may ask questions about your income, net worth and assets. This is to ensure you can afford to pay the premiums to maintain your life insurance, and that the amount of coverage you’re applying for makes sense.

Sign your name

Why does signing your name deserve special attention? Because the life insurance application is a legal document. It can be used against you if you have intentionally misreported anything, which the insurer would consider life insurance fraud.

The insurance company will verify everything to the extent possible, which could include pulling your:

  • Medical records.

  • Prescription drug record.

  • DMV report.

  • MIB report.

  • Credit history (to look for bankruptcy).

Life insurance medical exam

After your application is submitted, you may need a life insurance medical exam to qualify for coverage or to get the best rates. The exam is paid for by the insurance company.

You’ll be contacted by a paramedical examiner to schedule an exam if your policy application requires one. You’ll arrange for a convenient time and place for the exam — for example, at home in the morning.

The exam may include:

  • A review of all the medical questions and conditions.

  • A review of your prescription medications.

  • Blood pressure measurement.

  • Blood samples.

  • Electrocardiogram or treadmill stress test.

  • Height.

  • Weight.

  • Urine sample.

Not all life insurance requires a medical exam. Simplified issue and guaranteed issue life insurance both skip the exam by using more health data or by charging higher premiums for coverage than traditional life insurers.

After the application

How long it takes to issue your policy will depend on how quickly the insurer can get your medical records and verify your application information. If the insurer has any follow-up questions, that will extend the process.

Typically, it takes four to eight weeks for traditionally underwritten policies to be approved and issued. For instant life insurance policies that use accelerated underwriting, it’s possible for coverage to go into effect on the same day.

Frequently asked questions

To qualify for life insurance, you’ll typically need to submit medical and lifestyle information. Insurers want to avoid risks, so if you’re in good health, don’t smoke and avoid hobbies like skydiving, you’re more likely to be approved for a policy at a better rate.

It depends. Applications for instant or accelerated underwriting life insurance can be processed in minutes, but insurers may spend four to eight weeks reviewing an application for a fully underwritten policy. While the process may be lengthy, completing a medical exam can help low-risk applicants get affordable coverage.

A life insurance application requires a signature from the applicant (policyholder), the person being insured and the insurance agent. In many cases, the policyholder and the insured are the same person, but if you’re taking the policy out on someone else, like a spouse or business partner, you’ll need their signature, too. For children younger than 18, a parent or guardian is required to sign the application. Beneficiaries don't need to sign the application.

Lying on a life insurance application is a form of fraud that could land you in legal trouble. Leaving out or misrepresenting information on an application could get you denied for future coverage. If you omit important details, insurers can deny or reduce your beneficiaries’ death benefit if you die within the two-year contestability period.

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