A Guide to Life Insurance for Seniors

Consider your financial goals, age and overall health to determine your best coverage option.

Ben MooreJanuary 29, 2021
A Guide to Life Insurance for Seniors
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Seniors may have a tough time finding the best life insurance policy, but worthwhile options are available. 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 the best health.

But do 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 life insurance after all. However, a life insurance policy might make sense if you:

  • Have outstanding debt that others would have to repay.

  • Support a spouse, child or others dependent with your income.

  • Want to cover funeral costs.

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

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

Best life insurance for seniors

Term life insurance: The 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.

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.

Because term life is temporary, it’s best used to cover debts, such as a mortgage, or provide financial support for a spouse or dependent should you die during the policy term.

Term life insurance options for seniors

Company

Policy

Details

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Term Life

Max issue age: 70

Coverage: $100,000+

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Term Life

Max issue age: 75 (10-year term), 70 (15-year term), 65 (20-year term)

Coverage: $250,000+

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Term Life

Max issue age: 75 (10-year term), 60 (25-year term)

Coverage: $100,000 to $3 million

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Level Term Life

Max issue age: 70 (10-year term), 65 (15-year term)

Coverage: $100,000+

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

Level Benefit Term Life

Max issue age: 80 (AARP members only)

Coverage: up to $100,000

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

Term Life

Max issue age: 75

Coverage: $10,000+

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

Select Term Life

Max issue age: 75 (10-year term), 65 (20-year term)

Coverage: $100,000+

Issue ages and coverage amounts may vary depending on the product.

Whole life policies: Lifelong coverage

Whole life insurance can provide peace of mind because as long as you pay premiums on time, the death benefit will be paid regardless of when you die. The policy builds cash value over time by investing a portion of your premium payments into a savings account. You can then withdraw the cash, or take out a loan against the value. But whole life policies are more expensive than other types, especially if you purchase them later in life. Additionally, it takes time for the cash value to build — sometimes a decade or more.

Small whole life policies are often sold to seniors as burial insurance.

Whole life insurance options for seniors

Company

Policy

Details

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Whole Life

Max issue age: 85

Coverage: $50,000

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Whole Life

Max issue age: 90

Coverage: $25,000+

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Term Life

Max issue age: 90

Coverage: $25,000+

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

Simplified Whole Life

Max issue age: 85

Coverage: $20,000+

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

Whole Life

Max issue age: 74 (AARP members only)

Coverage: Up to $50,000

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

Whole Life

Max issue age: 90

Coverage: $10,000+

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

Final Expense Whole Life

Max issue age: 80 (75 in New York)

Coverage: $10,000 only

Issue ages and coverage amounts may vary depending on the product.

Other life insurance options for seniors

If you can’t find a traditional term or whole life policy, there are some alternatives to consider.

No-medical-exam life insurance

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 and guaranteed issue may be your best option.

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.

Guaranteed issue life insurance, sometimes called senior life insurance or “final expense” insurance, has no medical requirements for acceptance. These policies come with a two-year waiting period before full benefits are available, referred to as a graded death benefit. 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, your beneficiaries will receive a smaller payout, such as 110% of the premiums you paid.

Keep in mind that life insurance medical exams are typically free, so they may be worth it even if you’re not in perfect health.

Funeral insurance

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 specific expenses relating to the burial.

Funeral insurance is different from burial insurance, which pays the death benefit to the life insurance beneficiary you choose.

Guaranteed universal life insurance

Guaranteed universal whole life insurance is a blend of term and permanent life insurance. Guaranteed universal, sometimes called “term for life,” is similar to term life in that the policies expire after a certain amount of time. However, instead of choosing a number of years you’ll be covered, you select an age at which the policy will expire, such as 90, 110 or 121.

Guaranteed universal life has lower monthly premiums than whole life, but it still typically offers a small cash value while providing high coverage amounts. Guaranteed universal policies typically require you to pass a medical exam to qualify, and coverage is not assured. The word “guaranteed” refers to a guaranteed death benefit, as long as you pay your premiums.

Cost of life insurance for seniors

Here's how each policy type stacks up in cost:

Average monthly life insurance rates for senior women

Age at purchase

10-Year Term Life

Guaranteed Universal Life

Whole Life

65

$37

$182

$305

75

$119

$342

$572

85

n/a

$919

$1,259

Source: Quotacy. Average rates for a $100,000 policy from three top carriers, for healthy applicants.

Average monthly life insurance rates for senior men

Age at purchase

10-Year Term Life

Guaranteed Universal Life

Whole Life

65

$54

$210

$359

75

$151

$392

$643

85

n/a

$1,085

$1,478

Source: Quotacy. Average rates for a $100,000 policy from three top carriers, for healthy applicants.

Before you buy

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 pre-need 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 and compare monthly premiums and death benefit coverage to ensure you’re getting the best policy for your budget and financial goals.

  2. Work with a fee-only financial advisor to make sure you are getting the best policy for your situation, especially if you plan to purchase life insurance with an investment component.

  3. Before you buy any policy, be sure to read the fine print carefully to note important details, such as which causes of death aren't covered and what will happen if you can’t pay premiums.

Determining if you need a rider

Riders are options that can be added to a life insurance policy, typically for an extra cost. Riders vary by company and policy, but include:

  • Accelerated death benefit, where a portion of the death benefit amount is paid out early if you’re diagnosed with certain health conditions and need medical care or nursing home care.

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

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