How we chose the best life insurance for seniors
An insurance company is only as good as its ability to pay out on a claim. We checked in on our providers’ financial stability to make sure they’ll be able to hold up that end of the bargain. All of our top picks have “Excellent” marks (A- or higher) from A.M. Best, an independent agency that exclusively rates the financial health of insurers. And since the Insurance Information Institute recommends comparing two or more ratings (sometimes the agencies disagree), we also required top marks from a second major agency: either “Very Strong” (AA- or higher) from S&P Global or an “Excellent” (Aa1 or higher) from Moody’s. Life insurance policy.
To ensure that policies would be accessible for most seniors, we looked for companies with a generous latest age of issue. Most will write GUL through age 85 if the insured agrees to a medical exam. However, taking an exam could potentially mean being denied coverage if you’re considered “high-risk,” which may limit options for seniors with pre-existing health conditions. Keeping this in mind, we set our age of issue requirement at 80 years, the latest age that many providers will issue no-exam GUL.
We also required providers to offer a generous expiration date. Like term life insurance, GUL technically expires at a set date, it’s just that the policy is expected to outlive you. Insurers build policies extending through age 90 to age 121. A policy that lasts to 95 costs less than one that lasts to 120, but since we were looking for providers who put the “guarantee” in guaranteed universal life, we required coverage offered through age 120.
The best insurance policy is one that fits your death benefit needs and your budget. For seniors, those needs can vary widely. Someone setting aside funds for end-of-life and funeral expenses may be looking at a policy around $15,000, whereas someone hoping to set up an inheritance may want to channel hundreds of thousands of dollars into their life insurance. Of course, the size of your policy will determine how much you pay for it. The bigger the policy, the bigger the premiums, and vice-versa.
Our top picks offer a range of good policy options. Death benefit requirements start as small as $25,000 with New York Life or American National, and most stretch as far as company retention limits will allow ( read: millions ). That means that just about anyone will be able to find an fitting death benefit for their needs — and one they’ll be comfortable paying for.
We only considered providers that offer GUL insurance with guaranteed level premiums, meaning prices will remain the same throughout the life of your policy. This is an important safeguard, as some companies offer competitive pricing upfront, only to hike your rates up year after year. All of our top picks guarantee that the premium you pay in year one is the premium you’ll pay for life — no surprises.
For seniors at risk of health complications, living benefits are a crucial life insurance add-on. These riders can be used to cover treatments, medical care, and assisted living: costs that would normally be a heavy burden on the insured or their family. We made sure that our top picks all offer an Accelerated Death Benefit rider, which is typically the most generous living benefit. Some companies, like American National, also offer additional riders that expand the conditions under which the death benefit can be accessed.
Keep in mind that funds used during one’s lifetime often come out of the death benefit and ultimately deplete the amount that the beneficiaries will receive. Still — a smaller death benefit is likely preferable to large medical debts incurred during the insured’s life.
The 5 best life insurance companies for seniors
New York Life — Best for Flexible Policies
Mutual of Omaha — Best Customer Service
American National — Best for "High-Risk" Policies
Banner Life — Best for Flexible Payment Plans
Lincoln Financial Group — Best for Large Death Benefits
Life insurance rate quotes
New York Life: Best for Flexible Policies
Why we chose it
Flexible death benefits
New York Life offers the lowest death benefit for a GUL policy, starting at $25,000. We appreciate the affordable entry point; by offering such small policies, New York Life makes its insurance accessible to people with limited death benefit needs and to shoppers on a budget. That said, the company also accommodates those looking for a larger policy. Its death benefits cap out at “company retention limits” — which, according to the most recent information, are in the tens of million of dollars. For most people, that means the sky's the limit.
Generous no-exam insurance
New York Life is among the few companies that sells guaranteed universal life insurance through age 85 without a medical exam. For seniors that have pre-existing health issues, this is incredibly important. It may mean the difference between being allowed or denied coverage. Keep in mind that insurance is often cheaper if you do go through full underwriting (i.e. submit to a medical exam) — but for those in poor health, the price difference may be negligible.
Living Benefits Rider
Although it doesn’t expressly offer an Accelerated Death Benefit, New York Life does carry a “Living Benefits Rider” that fulfills the same purpose. With this add-on, policyholders can access up to $250,000 of the death benefit during their lifetime. That money can be put toward medical bills associated with a terminal illness, thus alleviating a big financial burden on the policyholder and/or their family.
Partnership with the AARP
Aside from offering its own GUL policies, New York Life partners with the AARP to provide affordable group life insurance for retired persons. Those looking for a small to midsize death benefit can opt for up to $50,000 in coverage and have the advantage of working with an organization they are familiar and comfortable with. As a bonus, its site includes a great learning center that walks through insurance basics and type comparisons. It’s a good place to start for life insurance first-timers. Looking for more information? Association members can apply online or phone a representative to talk about options and pricing.
Points to consider
Average customer support
In J.D. Power’s most recent Life Insurance Study, New York Life policyholders only give the company three out of five stars for customer service. That’s considered “About average,” and we can see why. When we called New York Life to request policy information, we were quickly transferred off the line and left waiting on hold. The company didn’t make it easy to get answers for specific questions about policies and pricing. If ample, personalized help is high-priority on your list, you may be better off with a provider like Mutual of Omaha or Lincoln Financial, which scored higher for service.
We also found New York Life’s FAQ to be less helpful than that of other companies. The list of life insurance questions is brief, and many answers simply point you towards a sales rep. That includes basic, extremely common queries like “How much life insurance do I need?” and “How do I get a quote for life insurance?” New York Life’s answer to those questions? “Click here to speak to an agent.” Those looking to comparison shop online won’t have much luck with New York Life. Expect to set aside some quality phone time if you’re interested in one of their policies.
Mutual of Omaha: Best Customer Service
Why we chose it
Highly rated customer service
Mutual of Omaha earned four out of five stars ("Better than most") for customer service in J.D. Power’s 2017 Life Insurance Study. That’s a score that none of our other picks could match. Why do customers like working with Mutual of Omaha? Most likely it’s the company’s thoughtful touches. For instance, its website lists agents in your area with profiles and individual phone numbers, so you can contact someone you’re comfortable talking to. It also has an intuitive “determine your need” calculator to help customers understand how their death benefit requirement should be calculated.
Easy policy management
Mutual of Omaha doesn’t just shine for customer service; it did well with J.D. Power pollers across the board. The survey, which tallied more than 6,000 life insurance customers, also measures satisfaction with policy offerings, price, statements, and billing processes. Mutual of Omaha was rated 789/1,000 overall; it took eighth place out of 24 companies and outranks all of our other top picks that were included. Thanks to these scores, we’re confident that it’s a safe bet for a smooth signup process, easy policy management, and helpful customer resources.
Lenient medical exam requirements
Like New York Life, Mutual of Omaha issues GUL policies through age 85 — but it takes a slightly different approach to medical exams. With this company, you won’t be required to take an exam for any policy that has a death benefit under $250,000. That means guaranteed coverage for death benefits that will suit most people’s needs.
Points to consider
Not the most affordable option
Mutual of Omaha requires a higher death benefit than most of our other top picks, starting at $50,000 for a Guaranteed Universal Life policy instead of $25,000. That means that its policies will be a little more expensive by default (a larger death benefit always means higher premiums). This isn’t a negative thing in and of itself; those with heftier death benefit needs will find a lot to love at Northwestern Mutual. But its policies are not as accessible to shoppers on a budget or those with minimal coverage requirements.
Limited policy information online
Mutual of Omaha’s website is incredibly scant on policy information. It states that the company offers guaranteed universal life, and it gives a brief overview of how GUL works — but beyond that, there aren’t any details on specific coverage options or requirements. Those who are buying insurance for the first time or have lots of questions may feel left in the dark. You’ll have to call up Mutual of Omaha and spend some time on the phone to learn more. On the bright side, the company is highly rated for customer interaction, so you can expect a friendly and helpful rep on the other end.
American National: Best Range of Coverage
Why we chose it
Affordable entry point
American National is one of only two top providers (along with New York Life) that offers guaranteed universal life policies starting at $25,000. Like we said before: The lower the death benefit, the lower your premiums will be. That means people who have limited needs — say, funeral costs and estate settlement — can purchase a moderate policy with American National that will help get their affairs in order without breaking the bank.
Comprehensive living benefits
American National’s living benefits offer a broad range of protection is case of serious illness. Along with its Accelerated Death Benefit rider, American National offers Chronic Illness and Terminal Illness riders at no cost to you — most companies charge a fee for any additional riders. These add-ons can help boost financial aid by making 50% or up to $250,000 available during the insured’s lifetime. That’s a fairly generous amount, as some companies restrict their living benefits to as little as 25% of the policy’s value.
Clear coverage options
American National is upfront with information about its coverage options and requirements. Its site states in clear terms who can get coverage, what size death benefits are available, and what riders are included with each type of policy. Other companies, like New York Life and Mutual of Omaha, are more sparing with information, prompting you to contact an agent if you’d like to learn more. While that’s not inherently a bad thing — agents will be able to walk you through benefits and answer questions — we appreciate that American National makes it easy to comparison shop and understand your options right off the bat.
Points to consider
Limited age of issue
American National only sells guaranteed universal life insurance through age 80, which is a bit less generous than other companies. Individuals looking for coverage later in life will have more luck with New York Life or Mutual of Omaha, who write policies through age 85.
Less tolerant toward smokers
American National is the only one of our top picks that expressly limits insurance options for smokers. It only issues Guaranteed Universal Life policies through age 75 to those who test positive for nicotine. Tobacco-users (especially those shopping after age 75) may have more luck with one of our other top picks. We recommend starting with Banner Life, which is reputed to have fairly forgiving underwriting standards.
Banner Life: Best for Flexible Payment Plans
Why we chose it
Short pay option
Most GUL policies allow for some flexibility with monthly payments so long as your annual premium stays the same. Banner Life takes that convenience one step further by offering a “short pay” option. With its Life Step UL, you can choose to pay off your entire policy in either 10 or 15 years — say, while you’re still in the workforce and have a steady income. This allows you to maintain a lifetime of protection without paying for your whole life.
Underwriting standards are different at every company, so no single insurer is guaranteed to have the best prices for everyone. That said, Banner Life is generally considered to have a fairly forgiving underwriting process. This means that buyers who would normally be considered “high-risk” may be quoted more affordable premiums with Banner than with other providers. It’s especially notable for being tolerant toward individuals with preexisting conditions like diabetes and toward those with a family history of cancer.
Useful learning center
Navigating the life insurance world is often difficult, so we appreciate any company that goes out of its way to provide helpful resources for customers. Banner does an especially good job covering life insurance basics for first-time customers. Its learning center walks through different scenarios (single, married, stay-at-home parent, etc.) to help people understand what their own death benefit needs might look like. It also includes a fairly comprehensive glossary that tackles most need-to-know life insurance terms. These foundational resources are a good place to start before choosing a specific policy.
Points to consider
Limited rider options
Banner Life is the only provider we’ve seen that limits GUL customers to two rider options: Accelerated Death Benefit, plus a Partial Surrender Benefit that lets you withdraw a portion of the cash value if need be. While we appreciate the inclusion of ADB — often the most valuable rider on a senior’s policy — this doesn’t leave much room for customization. Those looking for a longer-term GUL policy or more robust coverage may prefer a company that offers a wider selection (a Waiver of Premium rider that forgives payments if you become disabled, a Spouse Insurance rider that extends coverage to your partner, etc.). For broader coverage needs, try a provider with more options like Lincoln Financial or New York Life.
Sparse policy information
While Banner does a good job explaining insurance basics, its website is light on specific policy information. For GUL, the webpage gives a brief overview of benefits and nothing more. This means customers will have a harder time comparison shopping. For more information, you’ll have to call Banner and speak with an agent, which often puts on pressure to make a purchase. We prefer when providers (like American National) are upfront with their policy information online, allowing customers the breathing room to compare options for themselves.
Lincoln Financial Group: Best for Large Death Benefits
Why we chose it
Strong customer service
Lincoln Financial is the only company on our list that tied with Mutual of Omaha for customer service ratings, scoring four out of five stars in J.D. Power’s 2017 survey. That means its support systems are “Better than most.” This is important for a few reasons. First, because life insurance is a complex product and helpful reps are key to building a good policy. Second, because policies are only needed during a difficult time — and your provider should ease that process by being responsive and easy to work with.
Robust rider selection
An Accelerated Death Benefit rider is the only option we required for GUL providers, as it will be the most valuable add-on for seniors. That said, there are plenty of riders can bolster your coverage. Those looking for a longer-term, more robust policy will appreciate Lincoln Financial’s coverage roster. Beyond ADB, it carries Child Term and Spouse Term riders that allow you to add family members to your policy, a Guaranteed Insurability rider that lets you increase the death benefit at any time, a Disability Waiver of Premium that excuses payments if you become disabled, and more.
Cash value accumulation
One of the benefits of a permanent life insurance policy is the ability to build cash value. If you’re looking to put away some savings with your guaranteed universal life insurance, you should begin with a decently sized policy. Lincoln Financial’s death benefits start at $100,000 — offering sizeable growth potential right off the bat. A larger death benefit means larger premiums, and therefore more money being deposited into your cash value account. And since cash value grows with interest, earnings will be higher with a bigger policy.
Life insurance price quote
Points to consider
Expensive entry point
Lincoln is only available to those looking for a bigger policy. While that $100,000 is great for cash accumulation, it’s also a much higher entry point than any of our other top picks. Of course, the higher cost means you have access to Lincoln’s excellent rider options and strong customer service. But this company won’t be a good fit for those with minimal death benefit needs or people looking for coverage on a tight budget.
No life insurance calculator
Lincoln Financial is our only top pick that doesn’t offer an online life insurance calculator — a useful tool for choosing the right size death benefit. Without it, you’ll have to speak to an agent directly about your death benefit needs. While a professional can help walk you through options, it often puts on unneeded pressure to buy a policy.
Guide to life insurance for seniors
How to choose a life insurance company
Consider whether GUL is right for you
GUL is a great option for most seniors, as it offers a guaranteed death benefit payout at an affordable price. That said, it’s not the only option. Term insurance is even more affordable than GUL, although it expires after a set timeframe and does not guarantee a death benefit payout. On the other end of the spectrum is whole life insurance, which lasts a lifetime and accrues greater cash value than GUL but is much more expensive.
Compare life insurance types
If you’re still wondering about the best type of life insurance for you, take a look at the more in-depth comparison in our review of the Best Life Insurance. Below, we’ve recapped the major pros and cons of each type.
Ask about important riders
Riders allow you to tailor life insurance to fit your individual needs. “For seniors, especially,” says Gordon Conwell of AmericanTerm.com, “life insurance policies with chronic illness or LTC riders are a great option.” These “living benefits” help offset costs associated with illness or assisted living. When calling to request a quote, make sure to discuss rider options that could help bolster your GUL policy.
Our biggest piece of advice? Don’t settle on the first provider you look at. Your individualized quotes will be different from each company — which means you will likely have to request more than one to find the best combination of price and coverage. All five of our top picks are solid providers; we recommend getting in touch with a few of them to see who offers the coverage you need at a premium you’re comfortable with.
Life insurance FAQs
Do I need life insurance?
Life insurance is a sound financial decision for seniors. Instead of stashing away thousands in savings, you can pay a small premium each month for a GUL policy and be guaranteed a death benefit payout. It’s an affordable way to ensure that funeral costs and estate planning will be taken care of.
How much life insurance should I buy?
Seniors may only need insurance for end-of-life expenses, but determining the right amount can still be complex. Funeral costs, estate management, debts, inheritance, and other outstanding obligations need to be considered. Joel Ohman, Certified Financial Planner, recommends using a life insurance calculator for an accurate estimate. We’d suggest starting with Mutual of Omaha’s ; it’s one of the best we’ve tested.
How much does life insurance cost?
Your premium is based on an evaluation of your individual “risk factors”: age, occupation, health, family history, and so on. Each company rates these factors a little differently — for instance, one may be more “smoker-friendly” than another — so you won’t know who offers you the best rates until you compare quotes. That’s why we recommend getting estimates from more than one provider before selecting a policy.
Do I need to take a medical exam to get life insurance?
Taking a medical exam usually means cheaper coverage. As Jason Fisher of BestLifeRates.org says, “A little extra work on the front end can save you hundreds (or thousands) over the life of the policy." Without health information, providers can’t evaluate potential losses, and therefore charge higher premiums. No-exam insurance is only the best option for individuals with serious health issues, who may be denied coverage otherwise.
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