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How Your Relatives’ Health Affects Your Life Insurance Rates

May 3, 2016
Insurance, Life Insurance
How Your Relatives' Health Affects Your Life Insurance Rates
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You probably know your health will affect prices when you shop for life insurance coverage. What you might not realize is that your family’s health history can also influence your rates.

Life insurers consider your parents’ and sometimes your siblings’ histories of certain diseases as one of the factors when you request life insurance quotes.

Family health issues that count

Insurers are mainly concerned with parents or siblings who have a history of one of the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease).
  • Cerebrovascular disease (stroke).
  • Certain cancers, such as breast, colon, lung, ovarian, prostate or melanoma. However, insurers disregard diseases that affect only one gender, such as ovarian or prostate cancer, if the applicant is of the opposite sex.

The criteria vary among life insurance companies. NerdWallet reviewed guidelines from 20 insurance companies regarding family health history. The guidelines spell out the criteria for preferred, standard and other pricing categories when you’re buying life insurance. Here’s what we found:

  • Insurers differ in which diseases they ask about. Some, but not all, consider cancer deaths or diagnoses of parents or siblings, for instance.
  • With some insurers, it matters only whether a parent or sibling died prematurely of heart disease or cancer. Other companies consider whether a parent or sibling was diagnosed with one of those conditions.
  • Some companies ask about parents but not siblings; some ask about both.
  • The family history guidelines are strictest for the best rates and looser for the less favorable pricing categories. A company might allow the death of one parent from heart disease before age 60 and still offer standard prices, but not lower “preferred” prices.
  • Generally, insurance companies disregard family health history for older applicants, usually those over 60, 65 or 70, depending on the insurer.

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Getting extra credit for good health

Even if your family health history would knock you out of the running for the best rates, some insurance companies will make exceptions.

For preferred rates with American National Insurance Co., for instance, there can have been no death of a parent or sibling before 60 from cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease or certain cancers. However, the company makes some exceptions for the best rates, according to its underwriting guidelines. It allows:

  • One death of a parent or sibling from coronary artery disease before 60 if the applicant has had a negative stress EKG test with good exercise tolerance in the previous 12 months.
  • One colon cancer death of a parent or sibling before 60 if the applicant has had a normal colonoscopy in the previous 24 months.
  • A family history of prostate cancer if the applicant has a normal prostate-specific antigen test and normal prostate exam in the previous 24 months.

Some other companies will boost you to a better pricing category if a family health history is the only factor disqualifying you for better rates and you meet other health criteria.

If you think your family’s health history might hurt your chances of getting the best life insurance rates, remember that guidelines vary among companies. Work with an agent licensed to sell policies from a variety of insurers. A good independent agent will know which companies have the most favorable guidelines for your situation. In the meantime, NerdWallet’s life insurance comparison tool can help you get started comparing life insurance quotes on your own.

Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.