Does Life Insurance Pay for Suicidal Death?

Does Life Insurance Pay for Suicidal Death?

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Life insurance policies will usually cover suicidal death so long as the policy was purchased at least two to three years before the insured died. There are few exceptions because after this waiting period, a life insurance policy's suicide clause and contestability clause expire. However, your beneficiary's claim can still be denied if you failed to disclose information at the time you purchased the policy, such as risky behaviors or a diagnosis for depression.

When does life insurance cover suicide?

Individual life insurance generally covers suicide so long as it occurs after the policy's suicide clause and contestability provision have expired. Once both of these exclusions are no longer in effect, usually two to three years after a policy was purchased, your life insurance policy will typically cover suicidal death.

  • Contestability clause: This typically extends for the first two years, during which the insurer can contest or deny a claim for various reasons. If the insurer believes you've committed suicide during this period, it will investigate the circumstances of your death and your beneficiary may be denied a claim. Once the contestability period expires, the incontestability clause kicks in and a claim cannot be contested except in serious cases—such as misrepresentation or fraud in your application. Minor misstatements cannot cause a claim to be rejected.
  • Suicide clause: Also generally two or three years, this clause gives insurers the ability to investigate claims during this period, and lets them deny coverage if you intentionally caused your own death. If the insurer can demonstrate you intentionally killed yourself or your death was ruled a suicide, your policy will be negated and your beneficiary's claim denied.

While these clauses are similar, the contestability provision is broader because it also addresses other events which can cause a claim to be denied during the waiting period, such as dying during an illegal act. Life insurers include contestability provisions and suicide clauses in their policies to protect themselves financially.

The contestability clause allows insurers to void coverage in certain cases, such as if it was given inaccurate information in the life insurance application. The suicide clause, on the other hand, protects insurers from having to pay claims if the person who purchased the policy intended to kill themself and leave money to their beneficiaries.

If you change life insurance policies, even with the same insurer, your contestability period and suicide clause go back into effect. So there would be another waiting period during which, if you committed suicide, your life insurance would be negated. However, this is not generally the case if you simply convert your life insurance policy.

For example, if you had a term life insurance policy that was converted to a whole life insurance policy with the same death benefit, you would not enter a new contestability period. But if you had two term life insurance policies and decide to switch to a single policy with a larger face value, the suicide clause and incontestability clause would begin again.

If you die during the contestability period and it's determined to be a suicide, your beneficiaries will not receive the policy's death benefit, but they may receive the sum of premiums paid. However, if you had a cash value life insurance policy and had borrowed money from it, the sum of your policy loan would be deducted from the payout your family would receive.

Does group life insurance cover suicide?

Group life insurance, such as through an employer or organization, covers suicide differently than individual life insurance. If your group life insurance is entirely paid for by your employer, it will generally cover suicide with no restrictions during the first two years. On the other hand, if you purchased supplemental life insurance from your employer, that will likely include a suicide or contestability clause.

Does military life insurance cover suicidal death?

Members of the military and veterans who qualify for life insurance through Veterans Affairs are generally covered in cases of suicide. Military life insurance policies VGLI and SGLI include coverage for suicide, as there's no contestability period or suicide clause.

Questionable life insurance situations

Most life insurance policies cover "natural death," which can include accidental death, suicide, health issues and a variety of natural causes, so long as none of the policy's exclusions are triggered. The challenge for beneficiaries is that there are questionable situations in which it may be unclear if a death was a suicide. In that case, the death could be contested during the suicide clause waiting period. There may also be issues if another exclusion in the contract was triggered, such as the dangerous activity or illegal activity exclusions.

Does life insurance cover 'death with dignity'?

So long as the contestability and suicide clauses have expired, your life insurance policy should cover doctor-assisted suicide, also called "death with dignity." However, you would need to consult your policy document to make sure there are no additional exclusions that would void your policy.

For example, an illegal activity clause could prevent your beneficiaries from receiving the death benefit if you died from doctor-assisted suicide in a manner that didn't comply with regulations. There are only seven states, plus Washington, D.C., where death with dignity is legal in certain scenarios:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Montana

Does life insurance cover drug overdose or alcohol?

Life insurance may cover death due to drug overdose or an alcohol-related death, but it depends on the circumstances of the event and your policy's exclusions.

An accidental overdose, such as if you accidentally took too much of a prescribed medication, will typically be covered so long as your medications and the reasons for taking them were disclosed when you bought life insurance. The insurer can contest a claim if it occurs during the contestability period or suicide clause waiting period, but the insurer would need to provide evidence that your death was intentional.

Since it's impossible to ask the insured of their intent, and both the insurer and beneficiaries may have evidence supporting their case, accidental death may not always be covered by life insurance.

Death due to an illegal drug overdose during the contestability period will generally be denied. Even if it's not considered suicide, the contestability clause also can cover death during illegal acts. Once the period of contestability and the suicide clause have ended, whether a claim is paid depends on whether you disclosed all related information in your application—such as attending a drug treatment program. Payment also depends on whether your policy has additional clauses, such as a dangerous activity or illegal activity exclusion.

Alcohol-related deaths are similar. If you failed to disclose anything about your mental health, a history of alcohol abuse or treatment, or information about your drinking behavior, your family may not receive a payout. And if the insurer was able to find evidence, such as testimony of witnesses, that you'd intentionally tried to kill yourself, they would be able to reject the claim during the waiting period.

How to prevent a denied life insurance claim after suicide

All individual life insurance policies come with some sort of waiting period after you've purchased coverage. "No waiting period" policies generally refer to ones that don't require you to wait for medical exams or test results before coverage goes into effect.

The best thing you can do to make sure a claim isn't denied is to disclose all relevant information when purchasing your life insurance policy. It may be hard to do so and you may be concerned about having your application rejected, but providing false information can easily cause your family's claim to be rejected.

Whether you've had suicidal thoughts, previously attempted to commit suicide or have a history of mental illness, generally some insurers will cover your risk. While it may require you to apply with multiple life insurance companies, there are just a few issues, such as multiple suicide attempts, that will prevent you from finding coverage with at least one insurer.

When you apply for a life insurance policy, you should have records of and be upfront about:

  • Any history of drug or alcohol use, abuse or treatment
  • All medications you've taken or are currently taking
  • Any diagnosis or treatment for mental health conditions, such as depression
  • Participation in any risky activities, such as skydiving

Depending on the information provided, your life insurance company may limit the size of your death benefit, offer higher rates or add exclusions to the policy. But failing to disclose any of these details may mean you could pay thousands of dollars in premiums just to have your beneficiary not receive payment after your death.

In addition to disclosing all relevant information, you should provide your beneficiaries with a copy of your life insurance policy and make them familiar with the terms. It's common for a beneficiary to be required to provide a death certificate and information on the cause of death. This will help your beneficiaries in making a claim and provide the details needed to address any issues with the insurer.

Contesting a life insurance claim denial

An insurer may contest a life insurance claim if it believes the insured died from suicide during the contestability period or suicide clause waiting period. The insurer will typically defer to law enforcement or the medical examiner's ruling, but in some cases, it may launch its own investigation. In these cases, the life insurance company may consider:

  • The death certificate
  • An autopsy report
  • Hospital reports
  • Testimony from friends, family or witnesses
  • The insured's medical and mental health history, including records of psychiatric care and medications
  • Any evidence indicating drug or alcohol abuse or illegal behavior
  • Weapons purchases
  • Anything that could be considered a suicide note

While the burden of proof lies with the insurer to demonstrate the insured died due to suicide, the company can deny payment, and beneficiaries may have to contest the claim denial in order to receive a death benefit. If your claim is denied by the insurer and you believe the reason to be incorrect, you may need to bring legal action in order to receive a payout. Some situations are debatable, such as an overdose from prescribed medication, but you're at least more likely to receive a settlement by contesting the life insurance company's decision.

State laws for suicide and life insurance

If you disagree with an insurer's decision to deny a claim due to suicide, you may want to consult your state's laws, as many states have protections in place for you as a beneficiary. In Texas, for example, a policy's contestability period can only extend for up to two years, and insurers are restricted in applying new suicide clauses to converted policies. In California, you typically have two to four years during which you can sue to contest a contract. Also in Texas, a life insurance policy's contestability period can only extend for up to two years.

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