Each year, millions of Americans are incarcerated for crimes that run from misdemeanors to felonies. At the end of 2021, the U.S. prison population was 1,204,300, a 1% decrease from 2020, when there were 1,221,200 Americans incarcerated nationwide. And, a lot of the incarcerated individuals are also parents or guardians of young children. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, from 2018 to 2019, nearly half of federal prisoners were either the parent, step-parent or guardian of a minor child.

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While it’s important for many people to provide financial security to their loved ones with death benefits from a life insurance policy, securing life insurance coverage can be a difficult task for those with felony records. The risk associated with providing coverage to felons can be enough to make many insurance companies hesitant to offer them coverage. However, this does not mean that life insurance coverage is out of reach. There are steps that those with felony records can take to increase their chances of obtaining life insurance coverage. Here’s what you should know.

Do life insurance companies check criminal records?

Yes, life insurance companies will almost always check an applicant’s criminal record. In order to get a life insurance policy, applicants will be asked questions about their criminal history.

And, the life insurance company will likely run a background check on you. If your criminal history is discovered during the background check, the company may drop your policy. The best option is to be honest. If you lie, the lie will be discovered during the background check process and could result in the policy being dropped.

But the good news is that even if you have a felony, you may still be eligible for a life insurance policy, though it will depend on the unique circumstances of your situation and the insurance company’s policies. It’s worth noting, though, that if you are able to purchase a life insurance policy with a felony, you will likely face higher premiums because of the higher statistical risk with insuring you.

How to buy life insurance as a felon

The first step to buying life insurance is to understand your perceived risk to insurance carriers. You also need to understand what factors are considered by insurance providers who offer life insurance products to felons so you have a better chance of securing coverage from a provider that is able to meet your needs.

Reducing your risk

Individuals who are incarcerated are normally considered high-risk liabilities and many insurance carriers are hesitant to take on such policyholders as clients. However, each insurance company assesses risk differently, and there are ways in which you can reduce your risk by having the details of your incarceration readily available. Usually, a felon’s risk is determined by the following factors:

  • The severity of the crime committed
  • The number and frequency of crimes committed
  • The time that has passed since the crime occurred

Depending on the type of crime that occurred, you may be able to secure coverage shortly after incarceration from a lenient carrier. Showing proof that you have changed your lifestyle, such as evidence of a stable job and no further charges, may help to improve the odds of being viewed more favorably by life insurance companies.

Finding a carrier

As mentioned above, not all insurance carriers weigh risk equally. It is important to research each carrier before inquiring about a policy. Be sure to solicit companies who have experience providing life insurance coverage to felons as it may be more likely that they will offer coverage.

Alternatively, you may be able to find a carrier by searching for those who specialize in providing coverage to high-risk applicants. Be sure to get quotes from multiple carriers before making a final decision.

Selecting a policy

When it comes to obtaining a life insurance policy as a felon, a guaranteed issue policy may be the best option. A guaranteed issue life insurance policy provides coverage to policyholders regardless of medical history — and the same goes for criminal history as well. However, because guaranteed issue life insurance policies are guaranteed, they are generally more expensive than other types of life insurance, such as term life, and may not be an ideal solution if you are living on a limited budget.

How a felony impacts your life insurance

Having a felony on your record can impact life insurance. If your case is serious or repeated, an insurance company may outright deny your application. It is also important to note that life insurance companies generally only consider candidates who are not presently imprisoned. If you are in jail or awaiting trial, you are not likely to be able to obtain coverage until your case is resolved and you are no longer incarcerated.

But those with felony convictions who want to purchase a life insurance policy may still have options because insurance companies review risk on a case-by-case basis. This means that each applicant will be reviewed based on their individual scenario. You may also want to consider working with an independent insurance agent or broker who knows the market. They may be able to help you choose the best provider and policy option.

When applying for life insurance, be open about your felony conviction. Insurance agents frequently cross-check the data you provide with public records. Any information you provide that ends up being false will likely result in an automatic denial of your application.

If your application is denied, group life insurance through an employer may be an option as a way to maintain life insurance coverage. You could also apply for guaranteed issue life insurance until you qualify for a more suitable policy.

Other options for coverage

In addition to the guaranteed issue life insurance option mentioned earlier, felons may be able to obtain life insurance with the following alternatives:

  • Group life insurance: If you are able to find an employer that offers life insurance through its employee benefits package, you may be able to take advantage by signing up for a policy. These policies do not typically require the same medical or criminal history disclosures that individual policies do, so felons can easily sign up for coverage. Plus, group insurance rates are often much lower than individual policies since the rate is shared among a group of individuals. However, it is important to note that group life insurance coverage is usually limited in its offerings and only covers you for the duration of your employment with the company providing the coverage.
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment: While not a life insurance policy, accidental death and dismemberment policies may provide a way for felons to offer financial relief to family members if the event of their death or serious injury. However, beneficiaries will not receive a death benefit if you die from illness, disease or underlying medical conditions.

Finding life insurance as a felon is difficult, but it is not impossible. By taking the time to do thorough research, reduce risk and select the right policy, felons can provide their families with the financial protection they need following their death. Even if they cannot obtain an individual policy, a guaranteed issue policy may offer a great way for felons to secure coverage.

Frequently asked questions

    • Unfortunately, no, you will likely be unable to apply for live insurance coverage if you’re currently incarcerated or awaiting trial for a felony. You typically need to wait to apply for coverage until the charges are dismissed or the trial is over and you are no longer incarcerated before you can successfully apply.
    • When shopping for a policy, it is important to be prepared for the types of questions you will be required to answer when submitting your application. Insurance agents will usually ask the following questions:
      • What type of felony were you charged with?
      • How severe was the crime?
      • How much time has passed since the crime?
      • Did you go to jail? If so, how long were you incarcerated?
      • Did you serve a probation period?
      • What steps have you taken to rehabilitate since the felony?
      • Have you committed other crimes either before or after the felony in question?