Should You Get Survivorship Life Insurance?

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Variable survivorship life insurance, also known as survivorship life insurance, is a type of joint life insurance policy that insures two people. Survivorship life insurance is often used by couples or spouses. Survivorship life insurance only pays the benefit to the beneficiary when all the policyholders or insured people on the policy have died. It will not pay the death benefit if only one of the insured people dies.

Survivorship life insurance is also referred to as:

  • Joint survivor life insurance
  • Second-to-die life insurance
  • Variable survivorship insurance

Survivorship life insurance is often chosen when the purpose of the insurance is to leave money to the couple's heirs, which is why it only pays the death benefit when both spouses have died.

Key Takeaways

  • Survivorship life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that may provide a cash value in addition to the death benefit, which is only paid out when both policyholders die.
  • This type of insurance may be useful for those who want to ensure they can leave funds to their heirs.
  • It may also be suitable for couples in which one of the partners has a difficult time qualifying for life insurance.
  • Such a policy may be more affordable for these couples than two individual life insurance policies would be.

What Kind of Policy Is Survivorship Life?

Survivorship life policies are normally permanent life policies, such as universal life policies or whole life policies.


A term life policy, which is less expensive, is not normally used for survivorship, does not last for more than a limited time, and does not have cash values.

Joint Life Insurance vs. Survivorship Life Insurance: What's the Difference?

Joint life insurance is when an insurance policy covers multiple people on one policy. There are two options for joint life insurance:

  • First-to-die
  • Survivorship life insurance or second-to-die

The standard option for "joint life" is often a "first-to-die" policy. In a "first-to-die" joint life insurance policy, if one of the insured spouses dies, the death benefit becomes payable to the remaining spouse as the beneficiary. The objective is to leave money behind to the spouse to help them with living expenses and to replace the lost income from the death of the first-to-die partner.

Survivorship life insurance works differently. It is a joint life insurance policy and it covers both people but will only pay out when both insured people have died. This is why it may be known as "second-to-die."

The strategy in a survivorship life insurance policy is to leave behind money to the heirs of the couple, as opposed to in a joint life "first to die" life insurance policy that instead leaves the death benefit to a spouse.

Advantages of a Survivorship Life Insurance Policy

There are a few key advantages of a survivorship life insurance policy:

  1. Preserving wealth as part of an estate plan
  2. Creating wealth for heirs
  3. Getting insurance when one spouse is not easily insurable
  4. Accessing cash values when one spouse has died, while still preserving death benefits to heirs
  5. Cost savings

Some people choose to purchase a survivorship life insurance policy after consulting with an estate planning attorney in order to preserve their wealth.

Others may choose to purchase this kind of policy to build wealth for their heirs. In circumstances where people think they will have used up their assets and don't have a large estate to leave to heirs, this may be a good option to leave a benefit behind to heirs. A good financial planner can help you with these decisions.


Survivorship life insurance policies often have one advantage that other life insurance policies do not have: If one spouse is having trouble getting life insurance, by insuring him or herself on a joint survivorship life policy, they may be able to be insured more easily and for a lesser cost. 

Another advantage of the survivorship life insurance policy, besides leaving money to heirs after both spouses die, is that when one spouse has died, if there is cash value built up in the survivorship life policy, then the surviving spouse may be able to cash in on the cash value of the policy as needed.

Finally, the cost can be a good reason to consider a joint life insurance policy. The option of a survivorship life insurance policy could save you money as opposed to having two separate life insurance policies. Especially in cases where one of the spouses has medical issues or may have trouble finding affordable life insurance. 

How Survivorship Life Insurance Affects Your Estate Planning

One important estate planning aspect to a survivorship life insurance policy is that the benefit is not payable to a spouse but instead is payable to an heir. There are tax implications in this scenario. Many people use parts of a life insurance death benefit to pay federal estate taxes and other estate settlement costs.

Life insurance is a good way to leave money to heirs not only because of the death benefit cash value but also because of tax advantages.

An estate planning attorney and financial planner can help provide you with guidance as to the best ways to manage your estate and do the estate planning with you since every circumstance is different and you want to find the most advantageous plan for you.

Things to Consider When Purchasing Survivorship Life Insurance

When purchasing a survivorship life insurance policy, make sure to discuss these options with your financial planner:

  • If you would like a whole life policy vs. a variable universal life policy. These two policies have different investment/savings options that can impact cash values.
  • Find out if your policy has the option to split the policy into two separate policies if needed. Your situation in life can change, a good insurance policy will have the ability to change with you. Some insurance policies have a rider that allows you to split the policy in certain circumstances, for example in a divorce. 
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