Whole or Ordinary Life
If you’re the kind of person who likes predictability over time, Whole Life insurance might be right for you. It provides you with the certainty of a guaranteed amount of death benefit and a guaranteed rate of return on your cash values. And you’ll have a level premium that is guaranteed to never increase for life. Another valuable benefit of a participating Whole Life policy is the opportunity to earn dividends. While your policy’s guarantees provide you with a minimum death benefit and cash value, dividends give you the opportunity to receive an enhanced death benefit and cash value growth. Dividends are a way for the company to share part of its favorable results with policyholders. When you purchase a participating policy, it is expected that you will receive dividends after the second policy year – but they are not guaranteed. Dividends, if left in the policy, can provide an offset (and more) to the eroding effects of inflation on your coverage amount.
Variable Life insurance is offered via a prospectus and provides death benefits and cash values that vary with the performance of a portfolio of underlying investment options. You can allocate your premiums among a variety of investment options offering different degrees of risk and reward: stocks, bonds, combinations of both, or a fixed account that guarantees interest and principal. This type of insurance is for people who are willing to assume investment risk to try to achieve greater returns. With Variable Life you’re shifting much of the investment risk from the insurance company to yourself. Good investment performance would provide the potential for higher cash values and ultimate death benefits. If the specified Investments perform poorly, cash values and death benefits would drop accordingly.
Unlike Whole Life and Variable Life where you pay fixed premiums, Universal Life offers adjustable premiums that give you the option to make higher premium payments when you have extra cash on hand or lower ones when money is tight. Universal Life allows you, after your initial payment, to pay premiums at any time, in virtually any amount, subject to certain minimums and maximums. You also can reduce or increase the death benefit more easily than under a traditional Whole Life policy. Most Universal Life policies will also provide a guaranteed rate of return on your cash values, with one important exception. It is possible that you will not accumulate any cash value if any, or all, of the following circumstances occur: administrative expenses increase, mortality assumptions are changed, the insurance company’s investment portfolio underperforms, premium payments are insufficient.
In recent years, there’s been considerable interest in what’s commonly referred to as Universal Life with Secondary Guarantees (also known as a “No-Lapse Guarantee”). With an ordinary Universal Life product, the policy could lapse under certain circumstances (e.g., interest rates fall below projections, insurance costs or administrative expenses rise, etc). When you buy a policy with a “secondary guarantee” you’re guaranteed that the policy won’t lapse even if the above factors come to pass.
One of the most attractive things about Universal Life policies with Secondary Guarantees is that they provide lifelong coverage at rates that can be considerably lower than other forms of permanent insurance. That’s one of the main reasons why these policies have become so popular for estate planning purposes. If you have a federal estate tax liability (in 2008, estates valued at over $2 million are taxed), your main concern is liquidity at death. When you die, you don’t want your heirs to have to hastily sell off assets in order to pay estate taxes. With a Universal Life policy with Secondary Guarantees, the death benefit is guaranteed for life and you have the flexibility of adjusting your premiums, a valuable feature since estate tax rates and exclusion amounts keep changing from year to year.