What Is Survivorship Life Insurance?

Survivorship life insurance covers two people but only pays a benefit when the second person dies.
Robin Hartill, CFP®
By Robin Hartill, CFP® 
Edited by Lisa Green Reviewed by Tony Steuer

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Survivorship life insurance is a type of life insurance policy that covers two people, but it only pays one death benefit after both policyholders have died. Another name for this form of coverage is second-to-die life insurance.

Survivorship life insurance is one of two main types of joint life insurance, which insures two people under the same policy. The other type is called first-to-die life insurance, and it only pays a benefit when the first policyholder dies. Usually, survivorship life insurance is issued as a permanent policy, such as whole life or universal life.

A second-to-die policy is most commonly used by married couples who want to provide a death benefit to their survivors or a charity. It’s a relatively uncommon type of life insurance, but here are some circumstances when a survivorship policy makes sense:

  • You have a loved one with special needs. Some couples use a survivorship policy to provide for a child with a disability after both parents have died.

  • You’re concerned about estate taxes. High-net-worth couples often purchase a second-to-die policy to provide liquidity for federal estate taxes, as well as any applicable state estate taxes.

  • You want to leave a legacy to a favorite charity. A second-to-die policy can ensure there’s a death benefit for a charity after both policyholders die.

With any joint life insurance policy, the age and health of both applicants will be considered during the underwriting process. However, sometimes a survivorship policy can help an older or less healthy spouse or co-applicant qualify for life insurance when they wouldn’t qualify on their own. That’s because the insurer knows it will only need to pay out one death benefit, but it probably won’t need to do so until later on, when the younger or healthier person dies.

Because second-to-die life insurance is a rare type of life insurance, you’ll need to work with a life insurance agent or broker to obtain quotes and apply for a policy.

Learn more about life insurance for families

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