How to Talk to Your Spouse About Life Insurance

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Life Insurance

Learn ways to overcome obstacles and get the conversation started if you lack the protection your family needs.

Few couples relish the idea of discussing life insurance. Some just don’t want to think about it, while others may mistakenly assume that they don’t need life insurance coverage. But having a conversation and taking steps to get adequate coverage for both spouses is key to any family’s financial plan. If you don’t, your family’s financial stability could be in jeopardy should one of you die. Find out top obstacles to getting life insurance, along with ways to overcome them. 

1. It’s a difficult topic to broach because of the negativity surrounding it -- so it’s easier to backburner it time and again. Planning a vacation? Fun. Preparing for your own mortality? Not so much. 

2. It takes more effort than, say, buying a pair of shoes. (Although, in fairness, it is possible to get lost in a shoe department during a big sale.) Along with deciding which type of life insurance is best for you, “you need to fill out an application, there may be a medical exam, you may need blood tests,” says Maria Ferrante-Schepis, EVP and Managing Principal of Insurance and Financial Services at Maddock Douglas, Inc. “It’s easy to give up in the middle of the process because of other things getting in the way, or it can be annoying.” 

3. You don’t feel the urgency. If you’re young and healthy, it may seem that you have all the time in the world to buy life insurance. “People know it’s important, but it’s easy to put off because it feels so far in the future,” say Ferrante-Schepis. “You’re focusing on things going on in life screaming at you right now.” But as the saying goes, tomorrow is promised to no one, and an untimely death could create severe financial hardship for your family. On the other hand, the sense of urgency may emerge at a less than optimal time. “Your health may change and it becomes more present,” say Ferrante-Schepis. “But that’s the worst time to apply. It will be much more expensive or impossible to get.” 

4. It seems unaffordable. It’s not out of the question for a young family to need a $500,000 or $1,000,000 policy to have adequate coverage. But one possible roadblock is that the amount of coverage needed gives the false impression that it’s expensive. Ferrante-Schepis points out that a healthy woman in her thirties could buy a $500,000, 20-year term life insurance policy for about $20 a month. While $1,000,000 in coverage may seem like a lot, “it’s really not when you consider how long it would have to last, especially if you have young children,” Ferrante-Schepis says. “If one spouse dies, the other will be a single parent taking on all of the financial responsibilities of the household along with additional ones, like child care and the cost of college. If the surviving parent has a money crisis on top the emotional one, that adds stress to an already stressful situation.” 

5. It can be emotionally charged. “Research has shown that one partner may not want to discuss getting life insurance because of the notion that they’ll be worth more dead than alive,” Ferrante-Schepis, says. “It’s not the majority, but if a partner feels that way it’s embarrassing. They don’t want to voice it, which pushes the conversation under the rug.” 

Tips to Get Started 
Try a straightforward approach if you’ve been tiptoeing around the subject. Sometimes saying, “let’s just do it” is enough to get off the starting block. But if that doesn’t work …

  • Play the “what if” game. This simply involves gently posing a few questions to get your partner thinking about the possibilities. Some examples to get you started: What if something happened to one of us? What if we had to pay the bills on one salary.? What if I had to manage on my own?
  • Put it on a third party or external source. You might mention that you were poking around online and came across an article on life insurance, or that you found an online calculator that you wanted to share to test out various scenarios. Another strategy would be to meet with a financial advisor or your accountant to review your finances. These experts would likely recommend that you get life insurance once they know you don’t already have it.
  • Use positive life events such as buying a new home or having a baby, to start a conversation. Unfortunately, negative events, such as attending a funeral, can serve as a trigger as well. It may come to light that the survivors have the benefit of a life insurance policy to keep them afloat or, on the flip side, there was no policy and they now suffer the consequences.

Lacking coverage can come with an additional cost as well: It can create a good deal of stress, especially for the partner who is more acutely aware of the need for it. While it may take a few tries, it’s well worth the effort of having the conversation and then taking the steps needed to ensure your family’s financial stability -- and for your own peace of mind.

Take the Financial Stress Test to check your stress levels and learn ways to reduce it. 

Deborah Wilburn is a personal finance writer, author of For Richer Not Poorer: The Newlywed's Financial Survival Guide (Perigee/Penguin Publishing Group) and Senior Content Producer at  MoneyFit/Sharecare.

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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