Life insurance 101: what do I need to know?

Life insurance is important to your financial security. As a vital part of your financial plan, it needs to be reviewed regularly. As you experience changes in your life and career, your goals and protection needs may change.

Why do I need life insurance?

Life insurance is an essential part of any financial program. Most people buy life insurance to replace income that would be lost at the death of a wage earner. The cash provided by life insurance also can help ensure your dependents are not burdened with significant debt when you die. Life insurance proceeds could mean your dependents won't have to sell assets to pay outstanding bills or taxes. An important feature of life insurance is that generally no income tax is payable on proceeds paid to beneficiaries. If you have questions about tax matters, talk to your tax advisor.

This information should not be considered tax advice. You should consult your tax advisor regarding your own tax situation.

How much life insurance do I need?

Before buying life insurance, you should bring together your personal financial information and review your family's needs. There are a number of factors to consider when determining how much protection you should have. Including:

  • Any immediate needs at the time of death, such as final expenses, burial costs and estate taxes;
  • Funds for a readjustment period, to finance a move or to provide time for family members to find a job,
  • Ongoing financial needs, such as monthly bills and expenses, day-care costs, college tuition or retirement.

Our insurance needs calculator can help you determine how much insurance you may need to sufficiently provide for the well-being of your family.

How do I choose a beneficiary?

Designating a beneficiary is an important right of life insurance ownership. It lets you determine who receives your policy benefits. Under current tax law, life insurance benefits paid to a beneficiary are generally not taxable income.

Common terminology
  • Primary beneficiary - The person or persons named will receive the benefit.
  • Contingent (secondary) beneficiary - Policy benefits will be paid to the contingent (secondary) beneficiary, if the primary beneficiary is not living.
  • Irrevocable beneficiary - Once you designate an irrevocable beneficiary, you may not change it without the beneficiary's written permission.
  • Default beneficiary - If you don't name a beneficiary, policy benefits will be paid in order of priority as listed in the policy.
How to designate multiple beneficiaries

After determining whom you want to select as your beneficiary or beneficiaries, you may then choose what percentage of the benefit each individual should receive.

For example:

Primary Jane Doe, daughter, and John Doe, son

  • Jane and John will equally share the proceeds. If any additional children are born, they will not be eligible to receive a portion of the proceeds.

Primary Susan Doe, spouse
Contingent Jane Doe, daughter, 75 percent and John Doe, son, 25 percent

  • The proceeds will be paid to Susan Doe. If Susan is not living, then the proceeds will be paid 75 percent to Jane Doe and 25 percent to John Doe.

Primary William Doe, Trustee, his successors or successor in trust under the William Doe Revocable Trust Agreement. Executed by the insured on June 1, 1995.

  • The proceeds will be paid to a formal trust. If the Trust is an institution, the address of the institution should be included.
What is medical underwriting, and why must I answer health questions?

To ensure you are in good health to qualify for a life insurance policy, you are asked a few medical questions as part of providing evidence of insurability (EOI).

What is the underwriting process?

When your EOI reaches our office, we create a record for you. An underwriter then reviews your EOI. Factors such as current physical condition, medical history, height and weight are considered to determine if you meet our acceptance standards for this type of insurance.

What information is required?

Most EOI forms are processed using only the information you provide. However, in some cases, a physical examination is needed. The basic physical examination includes height, weight, pulse, blood pressure and a medical history questionnaire. The examination may include special testing such as a blood test, urinalysis and an EKG.

If an examination by a qualified medical professional is required, we will notify the exam center of any required testing. You will then receive notification, which includes a brochure to help you prepare for the examination.

The exam service will contact you to schedule an appointment. Most exams can be done in the convenience of your own home and take less than 30 minutes. There is no charge for the examination. A copy of the exam and lab results are available to you at no cost.

We may also call or send a letter to you to clarify information during the evaluation process. A review of your past medical records may be necessary to evaluate your EOI. If so, we will request these from your doctor or other health care provider by mail. We will also send a letter notifying you that your medical records have been requested. Your medical records are considered confidential, and information is not released to anyone else without your consent or a court order.

How long does it take?

Once you complete the physical exam, a report is sent to Securian Financial. We usually receive the reports within a week of the examination. If blood tests or a urinalysis are needed, they are handled by an independent laboratory. Those results are received within a week to 10 days of the examination.

If we need to write to your doctor for medical records, there may be some delay in the doctor's office responding to our request. Sometimes it helps if you call the doctor's office and ask for a prompt response.

Once we receive all the information requested, we will review it promptly. We'll notify you of our decision by mail. Infrequently, additional information might be needed. If further information is needed to evaluate your EOI, we will notify you by mail within a few days.

What do I do if I have a claim?

Securian Financial is committed to providing superior service to you and your family when you have a claim. Our goal is to process all claims promptly, fairly and courteously. Most claims are processed in 5-10 calendar days of receipt of the necessary claim information.

If you or your family wish to present a claim, please contact your company's benefits department for specific instructions. You may also call us concerning the status of a claim at 1-888-658-0193.

How do I learn more about a life insurance company?

Before purchasing life insurance, we encourage you to evaluate the financial strength and ethical reputation of the insurance company. This can be done by requesting information from the state insurance department or reviewing information from an insurance rating service. You can also check your state insurance department's web site (if available).

We are highly rated by the major independent rating agencies that analyze the financial soundness and claims-paying ability of insurance companies. Learn more about the rating agencies and view our ratings.