For Consumers

What to know before buying life insurance

Before you buy a policy, make sure you consider your financial situation and needs, and ask yourself:

  • What costs and hardships will my family deal with after I'm gone?
  • How will the loss of my salary affect my family?

Two types of life insurance to consider

Term life:

  • It provides you with coverage for a specific number of years.
  • It costs more as you get older.
  • It doesn't have a cash value so you can't cash it out.

Cash value life (whole life, universal life, variable life):

  • The insurer uses part of your premium to set up a financial account that earns interest.
  • It gives you actual dollars you can borrow or withdraw.
  • It costs more at the start of the policy.

Remember, a life insurance policy is not an investment. If an agent or broker tries to sell you life insurance as an investment with a high return, insist they show you that specific guarantee in your contract.

You may have to answer health questions

Insurance companies can require you to answer health questions to buy life insurance. Health information helps insurers find the right policy to offer you. It also helps set a premium that manages their risk and aligns with your health and life expectancy. The insurance company needs to know the full details of your health, as honestly and accurately and to the best of your knowledge as possible.

Few people are in “perfect” health, so chances are you can still get good coverage even if you’ve had a few health problems. Providing false health information could lead to the cancellation of your policy or no payment of benefits to your beneficiary.

What to do if you change your mind

When you get your new policy, read it carefully. Every new life insurance policy issued in Washington state comes with a 10-day free look period. This means if you're not satisfied with your policy, be sure to:

  • Return the new policy within 10 days after you receive it.
  • Mail it to the company's home office or give it back to the agent who sold it to you.
  • Get a dated receipt from the post office or insurance agent.

The company must return your premium within 30 days from the date you returned your policy or pay a penalty.

Reasons life insurers can't deny you coverage

They can't refuse coverage based on your:

  • Sex
  • Gender identity
  • Marital status
  • Race
  • National origin
  • Living organ donor status

The Living Donor Act ( prohibits insurance companies from declining or limiting coverage because you're a living organ donor.

Dealing with discrimination when you apply for life insurance

Though life insurance companies are supposed to evaluate all applicants equally (RCW 48.18.510 (, discrimination can happen. If you believe you have been unfairly denied coverage, you have the right to file a complaint with our office

Buying life insurance if you are transgender

Insurers can't deny you a life insurance policy or charge a different premium simply because you're transgender. Some companies, however, may use the sex you were assigned at birth rather than the gender you identify with to set your policy's premium. An insurer's risk assessment or underwriting is based on mortality, which is statistically tied to the sex you're assigned at birth. 

For example, someone who's assigned male at birth and then transitions to female still has a prostate, which increases the underwriting risk of prostate cancer later in life. People assigned female at birth still carry an increased underwriting risk for osteoporosis even if they transition to male. 

Some life insurance companies are starting to accept the gender the life insurance applicant identifies with, but the underwriting requirements vary by insurer. We recommend you check with multiple insurers about their underwriting policies. 

Getting a life insurance policy may be a bit more complicated if you're in the process of transitioning. Most insurers postpone offering life insurance coverage if you have any pending gender-affirming surgeries. Insurance companies usually like to wait until you have surgery and recover before offering coverage because there's always an inherent risk associated with surgery.