How to Cancel a Life Insurance Policy

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Whether you purchased your life insurance policy last week or several decades ago, you may at some point decide that it’s no longer in your interests to have it. There are a number of reasons this may happen — it could be that you no longer need it or that the premium payments are too high — but whatever your reason, there are ways to cancel your life insurance policy easily.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what happens when you cancel a life insurance policy and how to do it without losing money.

Your life insurance policy during COVID-19

Some might say it’s more important than ever to have solid life insurance coverage during the coronavirus pandemic, but what do you do if you’ve been furloughed or laid off and are no longer able to pay your life insurance premiums? Can you keep the policy but make arrangements with your insurer that work better for you?

You have some options here, depending on the type of insurance policy you have and when you got it:

  • If you have a whole life policy, and you’ve had it for at least a decade, you may have built up enough cash value in the policy to be able to use your dividend payments to pay your premiums.
  • If your health has improved since you purchased the policy, you can request a new medical exam to prove that you’re in better shape and thus eligible for lower premiums. This is a good option if you’ve quit smoking or no longer have a health issue that you had in the past.
  • Talk to your insurer about whether you can lower your rate of coverage. Some companies will allow you to reduce the amount of death benefit — from $500,000 to $100,000, for example — to allow you to take advantage of lower premiums. If, after the pandemic passes, you find yourself in better financial shape, you can always request an increase in coverage back to your original amount.

How to cancel life insurance

Canceling a life insurance policy isn’t hard. For starters, you have the right to cancel anytime during the free look period, which lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 days depending on what U.S. state you’re in. If you realize within that period that you’ve made a mistake by buying the policy, you can call or write your insurer to cancel and any premiums you’ve paid will be fully refunded to you.

After the free look period, however, how you cancel depends on the type of policy you have.

Canceling a term life insurance policy

Term life insurance, as the name suggests, provides coverage during an agreed-upon term of time, such as 10 or 20 years. Premiums tend to be low for this type of insurance, and the coverage features a simple death benefit and no investment vehicles within the policy.

Can you cancel term life insurance? Canceling your term policy couldn’t be easier: just stop paying your premium. You can also write a letter or call your insurer to let them know you’re canceling the policy, but this isn’t essential. Check the website of your insurer, too — there may be a form there you can fill out to terminate your policy.

Canceling a whole life insurance policy

Whole life insurance is different from term insurance in a couple of ways. It never expires, for one thing, and the premiums are usually higher than for term insurance. The big difference, though, is the investment component: a portion of the money you pay in premiums goes to build up equity in the policy, which you can draw on during your lifetime.

Can you cancel whole life insurance? Yes. Because of the equity you’ve built up, cancelling your policy may mean that you will get a check from your insurer — but only if you’ve had the policy long enough to build up cash value. If you cancel in the first ten years or so, fees will probably eat up any value that you have. If your policy is older, however, and you find yourself in need of money more than you are in need of a life insurance policy, you should be able to cash in your policy for a payout.

Some insurers allow you to modify your policy so that you keep some death benefits while paying a reduced premium or no premium at all, with all fees being paid by your equity in the account. But beware: if you just stop making payments without an agreement in place with your insurer, the policy could lapse. So in this case, you’ll want to talk to your insurance agent to see what options are allowed by your policy.

When to cancel your life insurance policy

You may have a good reason for canceling your life insurance policy, starting with a simple and common one: you don’t need it anymore. If your family is grown and your spouse or partner is able to manage on their own without a death benefit, it may be that life insurance doesn’t need to be part of your financial portfolio.

Or possibly, you’ve realized that the investment options of your whole life policy are not as good as another financial vehicle for long-term savings. A financial advisor can help you determine if you’d be better off with, say, an annuity or mutual fund. If you have a whole life policy, cashing it in could give you a nest egg to invest in a higher-interest-bearing account.

If the reason you’re canceling your policy is because you can’t afford the premiums — whether due to coronavirus or some other financial setback — we suggest you look at the suggestions in our COVID-19 section of this report, since there may be steps you can take to keep the policy but pay less.

A good thing to remember is that your life insurance policy should be part of a greater financial strategy that you have in place to provide a secure future for yourself and your loved ones. If there are better ways to do that, by all means cancel your policy and invest the money you would have paid in premiums into another savings vehicle.

Do you get money back when canceling life insurance?

The answer to this question is that it depends. If you have a term life insurance policy, which has no investment option, the only possibility of getting money back is if you cancel in the middle of your payment cycle. Then, you’ll receive a check for any premium that has not yet been applied to your account — which is going to be a very small amount compared to the policy’s death benefit.

If you have a whole life policy, and you have equity built up in the policy because you’ve been paying into it for a decade or more, you should receive a lump sum payment from your insurer. They will subtract any fees out of this payment and send you the rest of the cash value of your policy. This, too, will probably be far less than your death benefit.

Frequently asked questions

Can you cancel a life insurance policy at any time?

Yes, you can, although the only way to get back all your premium payments is to do so during the initial “free look” period.

How do I know when to stop term life insurance?

There’s no one right age, but some people cancel their policies when they are older and don’t need to leave a death benefit for their children.

Can I exchange my life insurance policy for an annuity?

Yes, you can. The IRS calls this a 1035 exchange, and it allows you to do a tax-free transfer of your policy into an annuity or long-term care policy.

What happens when you cancel a life insurance policy?

Generally, there are no penalties to be paid. If you have a whole life policy, you may receive a check for the cash value of the policy, but a term policy will not provide any significant payout.