When Does a Life Insurance Policy Lapse?

Last updated on May 2, 2019 by Kamran Rosen in Life Settlements, Retirement Planning

Elderly couple wondering when does a life insurance policy lapse?

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Have you missed a life insurance payment or are you unable to pay your life insurance premiums? When you miss your life insurance payments, your policy could lapse, leaving your beneficiaries with nothing.

This article will cover the basic definitions of a lapsed life insurance policy, payment grace periods, how you can reinstate a lapsed policy, and steps you can take to avoid lapsed life insurance payments.


Lapsation in Life Insurance

Lapsation, or “lapsing” in life insurance occurs when a life insurance policy is no longer active, meaning the insurance company is no longer legally obligated to pay the beneficiaries of a policy the death benefit upon the passing of the insured.

The most common reason for a lapsed policy is because of a missed payment or a series of missed payments.


Life Insurance Grace Periods

In the U.S. all life insurance policies are legally required to honor a grace period, typically 30 days from the payment due date, during which time your life insurance company must pay the death benefit, despite lack of premium payments. During a grace period, the policyholder may also make a late payment to resume insurance coverage.

An older main enjoying his life insurance payment grace period

It’s worth noting that grace period payments are almost always higher than standard premium payments, and the rules and amounts differ for whole, universal and variable life policies.

After the grace period, a policy is officially considered lapsed.


Reinstating a Lapsed Policy

If a policy’s premiums aren’t resumed during the grace period, the insurance is considered lapsed – but the insured may still have the option to reinstate their policy for up to 6 months after the first missed payment.

Unlike a grace period, a reinstatement period is not legally required, though it is commonly offered by most insurance companies. The rules will be different with every company, but time is of the essence and you always want to reinstate a policy as soon as possible.

Reinstating one’s lapsed policy can typically be done without underwriting within the first 30 days after lapse (this is 2 months since your last premium payment).

However, after that 30 day period, reinstating a policy requires limited underwriting that involves answering questions to confirm there are no significant changes in the health of the insured relative to when the policy was initially taken out. This underwriting is legally binding, and lying on it will lead to a void contract should it be discovered. Fortunately, the underwriting is much easier than the initial insurance application and should not be too time-consuming.

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If the policyholder’s health has significantly changed, they may be rejected and need a new policy. The circumstances that would lead to this are rare, and would be something severe like a heart attack or a terminal illness like cancer.

It should be noted that reinstating a lapsed life insurance policy will always present an additional cost to the insured. When done in the first 30 days of lapse, the fee is usually at least one month’s premium. The upside here is that this not a fee assessed by the insurance company, and the additional money goes into the cash value of the policy. After the 30 day lapse, reinstatement will carry both a fee and typically increased premiums as well.

The key takeaway is it’s almost always cheaper to reinstate an existing policy than to get a new one, and it’s always cheaper to keep a policy active the sooner you make payments.


How to Avoid Lapsed Payments

It’s pretty standard for a life insurance company to offer automatic checking account withdrawals for monthly premiums, which make it much easier to stay on top of payments.

Many lapsed policies occur when the policyholder is experiencing serious health conditions, and is both financially compromised and potentially unaware of their situation. As such, it is important for policyholders to communicate with their beneficiaries or other responsible individuals, who may be able to step into resume premium payments should the insured be unable to.

A smiling couple in the kitchen happy to avoid life insurance lapsation

If you are in a tight situation financially and are considering letting your insurance coverage lapse to avoid paying premiums, it is very important to note you can sell a life insurance policy for cash rather than let it lapse.

If you don’t plan on resuming your life insurance payments, it’s better to cash out life insurance than to let all those months of premium go to waste. However, you will not be able to take out another policy on yourself once you sell your existing life insurance policy.

If this is the case and you want to learn how best to maximize the value of your life insurance policy, we encourage you to read these related guides:


Summary

A life insurance policy lapses when a policy is no longer active due to missed payments. Policies are required to have a grace period, and the insured may be able to reinstate a policy for up to 6 months after the first missed payment. To avoid a lapsed policy, ask beneficiaries for assistance or sell the policy for cash.

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Kamran Rosen
Kamran Rosen
Kamran is a freelance personal finance writer and expert. He graduated with B.S. in economics from University of Vermont. He was previously a staff writer for both Nerd Wallet and The Hustle.

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