- My dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 54. He seemed indestructible and never thought he’d get sick like this, so he never purchased life insurance.
- When he died less than a year after getting diagnosed, my family and I dealt with the double grief of losing him and trying to pay for his end-of-life expenses.
- After that experience, my husband and I reevaluated our life insurance policy and made sure no one would be left to foot a bill in the event of our passing.
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Growing up, I thought my dad was invincible. A man with a personality as grand as his physical presence, he was larger than life in so many ways. Throughout my life, I saw him excel at everything, from decorating wedding cakes to using a chainsaw to carve ice sculptures. He worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met and his talent was limitless.
When we got the news of his cancer diagnosis in 2017, it felt like a mistake. This sort of thing didn’t happen to our family, least of all to my indestructible dad.
At just 54, he wasn’t a man who would let illness slow him down. He’d had his share of health issues in life, but none like this. While my dad had suspected he was sick before actually getting diagnosed, he didn’t think it would be anything so life-changing. He was so sure of that, in fact, that he didn’t even have life insurance.
My dad’s history with life insurance
Just like 40% of Americans, my dad didn’t have any sort of insurance that would pay out upon his death. He did at one time, when he received benefits through work. However, when he left his job, his life insurance ended. It was never really a priority for him to purchase individual life insurance afterwards. He thought he had time.
Before he started treatment for pancreatic cancer, my dad bought a life insurance plan. The underwritten conditions of this plan stated that he would have to survive for a probationary period – in this case, a year – before my family could claim his death benefit. His death any time within that year would result in an investigation and the claim would more than likely be denied.
We didn’t know if he would make it that long, but what else could he do? With no savings, no funeral plan, and no established insurance, this was a gambit.
Unfortunately, my dad lost his fight against cancer in August of 2018, a few months shy of the end of his probationary period. We knew that, on top of the overwhelming grief my mother, sister, and I were going through, we also had to worry about how to pay for my father’s burial.
The shame was just as powerful as the grief. Having to beg and crowdsource in order to bury my dad added a layer of tension I wasn’t expecting. It felt like my failure. It was as if I wasn’t able to pay proper tribute to my dad or guarantee a comfortable life for my mum. I can only imagine how it felt for my dad in those final months; the uncertainty of how he would leave us and the guilt in knowing that – for the first time – he had failed to provide.
The worst thing about this is that it was totally avoidable.
Updating my life insurance policy
I was surprised to find that my dad’s life insurance premium was less than $US30 a month for a $US200,000 policy. This cost is pretty standard for term life insurance, but I was shocked at its affordability. I currently spend more than that on my weekly coffee habit.
So, it wasn’t the cost that stopped my dad from getting life insurance sooner. In fact, getting the policy was easy as well – my dad didn’t even need to have a physical performed for this particular policy. It seemed the only thing that stopped our family from shopping for life insurance was our failure to prioritise it.
After my dad was buried, it became my mission to educate others about advocating for and protecting themselves. I talked with my mum and mother-in-law about their own policies, making sure we had them insured for that inevitable day down the road.
My own immediate family – my husband, myself, and our two kids – are covered by the group life insurance benefit offered by my husband’s job. We don’t have any additional outside coverage because my husband is a network engineer for a school district, so he has great job security. Plus, his coverage is much cheaper than it would be outside of his employer.
When I looked at our policy, though, I discovered that the small amount we were paying per month was easily increased for bigger payouts.
The life insurance offered by my husband’s job provided a term of 20 years per policy at less than $US5 a month per dependent. It offers a $US100,000 payout for my husband, $US50,000 for me, and $US10,000 for each of our children. However, it also offers the option to increase the term by five to 10 years for each plan in order to extend our coverage.
Once we actually looked at the policy and its specifics, it was easy to adjust it to our needs. We ultimately opted for a payout that would cover the remainder of our mortgage (it’s one-third paid off at the moment) as well as our final expenses. We upped both of our life insurance policies to a coverage amount of $US200,000 and $US50,000 per child, spending a total of less than $US50 a month on premiums. I was content in a lesson well learned.
Another family tragedy reminded me that life insurance is critical
Unfortunately, less than a year later, we found ourselves going through the same thing with my husband’s aunt. She was hit with the same diagnosis of pancreatic cancer that my dad had suffered.
Again, she was a person who had such a welcoming presence and who was loved by so many. She was young, too – only in her early 60s – and was looking forward to her retirement years spent with family. She wasn’t supposed to go so soon.
Within months of her diagnosis, my husband’s aunt was gone. Just like my dad, she didn’t have life insurance. Again, the family had to come together to pay for another cemetery plot and another burial. There would be no insurance payout to facilitate these costs or to ease the added burden that went along with our grief.
This is a reality that too many families face every year, even when the deceased has a life insurance plan. Of the six in 10 Americans who actually have end-of-life insurance, only 50% have enough coverage to satisfy all final expenses.
When discussing end-of-life costs, it isn’t just the price of burial. Lost income, mortgages, and other household expenses need to be accounted for. Most hope to leave some sort of inheritance to loved ones as well.
Moreover, 30% of the six in 10 Americans who have life insurance are only insured through a group plan offered by their place of work. While it’s a start, these plans typically only pay out between $US25,000 and $US100,000, and the policy doesn’t follow you if you change jobs. That amount is enough for a funeral, but it doesn’t cover those other end-of-life expenses we need to worry about.
If we’re aware of these costs and know that death is an inevitability, why don’t we plan better? A 2019 survey from Ladder and OnePole found that 52% of people asked thought life insurance was too expensive. Another 17% thought they just didn’t need life insurance to begin with.
My personal experience with insurance has taught me the opposite of this. I learned that I was greatly overestimating how much term life insurance costs. The small monthly payments I make more than live up to their worth. It’s more than their promised payout; it’s the peace of mind knowing that those funds are there when they will be needed.
Also, the internet has made shopping for insurance easier than ever. Comparing prices, looking at policies, and assessing how much insurance is needed can all be done from your computer or smartphone.
Some insurance companies even offer the option of having a broker visit you at home to assess your options. It might feel overwhelming at first, but access to information will make you feel more secure in buying a plan that’s right for you.
As for that 17% who feel they don’t need life insurance, please remember that death comes for us all. No matter how healthy, strong, or important a person is, it’s a guarantee that they will one day die. As bleak as that sounds, all we can do is answer that guarantee with one of our own through affordable and necessary life insurance.
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