Determining Your Life Insurance Coverage Needs

Like auto insurance coverage, it is sometimes difficult to see the true value of life insurance coverage until you actually need it. In the meantime, the only way you will feel comfortable with your life insurance policy is if you understand, and agree with, the reasons you bought it in the first place.

There are many reasons for an individual to own life insurance coverage. Perhaps the most compelling reason is to purchase a death benefit which will provide for the financial needs of their survivors.

Determining how much life insurance coverage you need is a four step process:

  1. Determine total short term needs in the event of your untimely death
  2. Determine total long term needs in the event of your untimely death
  3. Determine total resources available to family members
  4. Provide insurance coverage for any remaining shortfall

Determining Your Total Short Term Needs

Short term needs are financial obligations and/or expenses arising within six months of death. Examples of short term needs include expenses you pay now such as:

  • loan balances (automobile loans, etc)
  • outstanding credit balances (credit cards, revolving lines of credit, etc)
  • mortgages (first mortgage, second mortgage, equity loans)

Add to these current expenses any death-related expenses which must be paid in the short term:

  • funeral expenses
  • final medical costs
  • estate settlement costs
  • estate taxes due
  • charitable bequests you would like to make at death

And if you don't already have one, your survivors should be left with a liquid emergency fund sufficient to get them through any unexpected financial needs, perhaps six months worth of living expenses.

Determining Your Total Long Term Needs

In addition to covering your survivors' short term needs, some level of monthly income will be needed to maintain their standard of living and meet financial goals you have made together. These long term income needs include:

  • a future income stream to cover standard of living items (we recommend that you identify several time periods with unique needs such as while kids are in home, when kids are gone, and your spouse's retirement years.)
  • college expenses that you would like to cover for your dependents
  • elderly care expenses you plan on contributing for relatives
  • monetary support for a disabled dependent
  • mortgages (first mortgage, second mortgage, equity loans)
  • child care costs if your spouse will work after your death

The value of these future obligations is discounted back to present value amounts. This gives us a single dollar amount which, if invested, could provide funds for all of your long term goals.

Calculating Your Total Available Resources

At this point, we have a pretty good idea of what your total cash need would be in the event of your untimely death. With any luck, you have already begun to set money aside to cover some of these costs, and the government has a plan to help you as well.

  • Estimated earned income of your survivor(s)
  • Survivor Social Security benefit (continues while you have children under the age of 17)
  • Retirement Social Security benefit (begins approximately when your spouse turns 65)
  • Survivor benefits from your pension plan

The value of these future resources is discounted back to present value amounts. This gives us a single dollar amount which we can use to offset your total needs.

Providing Funds To Cover A Shortfall

When we compare our total needs to our total resources, most of us will find a shortfall. A shortfall situation means that our survivors will be left with the choice of either finding additional resources that we have not been able to identify, or do without many of the financial needs that you hope to cover.

Life insurance is uniquely suited for covering such a shortfall. It is a means of sharing the financial risk of premature death with many, many others who have similar concerns.

You pay a relatively small premium to an insurance company in exchange for their promise to pay your beneficiaries a specified death benefit in the event of your death. A financial need that arises from your death can be eliminated by a financial resource that is created upon your death.

Factors To Consider When Selecting Life Insurance

In an ideal world, we would each carry sufficient life insurance to continue to provide a lifestyle for our survivors similar to what they enjoy now, with us here. We cannot always afford to fully cover our survivor needs, particularly in our early years.

However, life insurance comes in many shapes and sizes. By carefully considering the type and amount of life insurance that best meets your needs you can ensure that you have provided for your family's monetary needs, even if you are not here to do the providing.

Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary therefore, the information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.

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