Key takeaways

  • More than one million Americans are incarcerated, and a significant portion of those individuals are parents or guardians of minor children.
  • People with felony records face challenges securing life insurance due to the perceived risk associated with their criminal history, resulting in higher premiums.
  • Felons can take steps to increase their chances of obtaining life insurance, such as understanding and mitigating perceived risk factors, researching insurance carriers that may be more lenient, and considering alternative options like guaranteed issue policies or group life insurance through employers.

Every year, millions of Americans, ranging from those with minor offenses to serious felonies, find themselves behind bars. This is a situation that can create complications for many matters, including securing a life insurance policy. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 1.2 million Americans were currently incarcerated at the end of 2022, a two percent increase from the year before. Notably, a significant portion of those incarcerated — 41 percent — are parents or guardians of young kids.

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If you are looking to get life insurance on someone currently in prison, you’re going to run into many roadblocks. Most insurance companies will not approve life insurance for inmates. The risk of insuring someone in prison is deemed too high for insurers to accept.

Those who have been released from prison will have better chances, but obtaining life insurance for people with felonies can still be challenging. Some companies may view those charges as a risk factor, making it potentially expensive and difficult to get life insurance for felons. However, it is possible to navigate these challenges and potentially get life insurance on someone who was in prison. Those with felony records can take specific steps to improve their chances of getting coverage. Here’s what you need to know.

Do life insurance companies check criminal records?

Life insurance companies will typically look at an applicant’s criminal history. In most cases, the life insurance application will include a question asking the person applying for insurance about any prior convictions on their record.

Moreover, the insurance company is likely to conduct a background check on you. If your criminal history surfaces during this check and contains information that you didn’t disclose, the company may choose to deny your application outright and not allow you an opportunity to explain your situation. In addition, you will have an alert on your consumer file with the Medical Information Bureau (MIB). When you apply elsewhere, if that insurance company is a member of the MIB, then the insurer will see this coded alert that essentially suggests they conduct further investigation before making a decision on your coverage.

Even if an insurance company were to approve you for coverage, they typically have two years to investigate any aspect of the policyholder that may have been misrepresented. If they discover you lied or purposely omitted critical information, the insurer has a right to reduce your beneficiary’s death benefit or even deny the claim entirely. For that reason, the advisable course of action is to be honest with the insurance company during the application process.

It’s worth noting that a felony is not an automatic disqualifier when it comes to applying for a life insurance policy. It will depend on your circumstances and the specific insurance company’s underwriting guidelines, but some companies are willing to extend coverage to people with criminal records. Typically, the premiums for these policies will be higher than people without a criminal history, as providers view these clients as a higher risk. But coverage may be available.

How to buy life insurance as a felon

To start the process of purchasing life insurance, it’s essential to understand how insurance companies view the risk that you pose. Additionally, you should know the factors that life insurance providers consider when offering coverage to individuals with felony records so you can improve your chances of finding a suitable provider.

Reducing your risk

People who were incarcerated are normally considered high-risk liabilities. For that reason, many insurance carriers are hesitant to take on such policyholders as clients. However, each insurance company assesses risk differently. There are several ways you can reduce the risk that insurers perceive by being upfront and having the details of your incarceration readily available. Typically, a person with a felony’s risk profile is determined by considering the following factors:

  • The severity of the crime
  • The frequency of criminal activity
  • The amount of time that has passed since the conviction occurred

Depending on the nature of the crime for which you were convicted, you might be eligible for insurance coverage soon after serving your sentence and any parole or probation requirements. Demonstrating positive changes in your life, like having a steady job and no additional charges, could increase your chances of being looked at more positively by life insurance companies.

Finding a carrier

Insurance companies all weigh risk using their own set of metrics, so they may not reach the same decision when determining whether or not to insure someone with a felony. For that reason, it is best to research each carrier before requesting a policy quote to set expectations. You will likely have the best luck working with a licensed insurance agent or broker who has knowledge about insurance providers that offer coverage to felons.

As an alternative, you may be able to find a carrier by searching for providers that specialize in high-risk applicants. To find the best coverage at the best rate, request quotes from multiple providers before making a decision.

Selecting a policy

If you are trying to get life insurance as a person with a criminal record, you might find a guaranteed issue policy to be the most suitable choice. This type of policy offers coverage without considering your medical or criminal history. Keep in mind that guaranteed issue policies are usually more expensive than other life insurance options like term life, so they might not be the best fit if you’re on a tight budget.

How a felony impacts your life insurance

Having a felony on your record can affect your ability to get life insurance. If your case is serious or involves repeated offenses, an insurance company might reject your application. It’s crucial to know that life insurance companies typically only consider applicants who are not currently in prison. If you’re in jail or awaiting trial, getting coverage may require waiting until the case is resolved and you’re no longer incarcerated. For this reason, it is unlikely that you can get life insurance on someone in prison.

However, individuals with felony convictions seeking life insurance still have options. Insurance companies assess risk on a case-by-case basis, meaning each applicant is evaluated based on their unique situation. Consider working with an independent insurance agent or broker familiar with the market; they can assist you in choosing the best provider and policy.

When applying for life insurance, disclose your felony conviction and be upfront about your situation. Insurers often verify the information against public records, and providing false information will likely result in automatic denial of your application.

If your application is denied, you might explore group life insurance through an employer to maintain coverage. Alternatively, you could apply for guaranteed issue life insurance until you qualify for a more suitable policy.

What convictions make you ineligible for life insurance?

Every insurance company has its own guidelines regarding who it’s willing to insure. In some cases, one company may choose not to offer coverage to a person with a specific conviction while another insurance provider may be willing to offer coverage. With that in mind, there are some convictions that most insurance companies tend to treat as disqualifying.

These convictions include:

  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual assault
  • Murder
  • Conspiracy to commit any of the above charges

Some insurance companies may also be averse to insuring people with drug trafficking charges. However, most drug-related charges are no longer viewed as entirely disqualifying. It may depend on the severity of the charge and the type of substance involved.

Other options for coverage

In addition to the previously mentioned guaranteed issue life insurance option, individuals with felony convictions have other alternatives for obtaining life insurance:

  • Group life insurance: If you find an employer offering life insurance as part of its employee benefits, you can sign up for a policy. These policies usually don’t require the detailed medical or criminal history disclosures that individual policies do, making it easier for felons to get coverage. Group insurance rates are often lower since they are shared among a group, but keep in mind that this coverage is typically limited to your employment duration with the company.
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment: While not exactly life insurance, these policies can provide financial relief to family members in the event of your death, if resulted from an accident, or serious injury. It’s important to note that there won’t be a death benefit if you pass away from illness, disease, or underlying medical conditions.
  • Guaranteed issue life insurance: Also known as guaranteed life insurance or guaranteed acceptance life insurance, this policy doesn’t require health screenings or medical exams for approval. It’s a type of whole life policy with a typically lower death benefit, and it stays in place as long as you keep paying premiums.

Finding life insurance as a felon is challenging but not impossible. Thorough research, risk reduction and selecting the right policy can help felons provide financial protection for their families after their passing. Even if a traditional insurance policy is unattainable, a guaranteed issue policy could be a viable option for securing coverage.

Frequently asked questions

    • Under most circumstances, you will be unable to apply for life insurance if you are currently incarcerated or awaiting trial for a felony charge. You will usually need to wait to apply for coverage until the charges are dismissed or the trial has ended and you are no longer incarcerated.
    • When looking for a life insurance policy, it is best to be prepared for the types of questions that an insurance provider will require you to answer when submitting your application. Insurance companies will usually ask questions including the following:

      • What type of felony charge did you receive?
      • How severe was the alleged crime?
      • How much time has passed since the crime was committed?
      • Were you incarcerated? If so, for how long were you in jail?
      • Did you have a probationary period?
      • Have you taken steps to rehabilitate your life since the conviction?
      • Have you been convicted for any additional crimes either before or after the felony?
    • Typically, you cannot apply for a life insurance policy if you are in the process of facing felony charges. Most insurance companies will require you to wait until the trial ends or the case is dismissed before making a determination on whether or not you are found guilty of the charges. It is not recommended you apply for life insurance while you’re involved in criminal proceedings.