Negotiate, Reactivate or Terminate: Your Expiring Term Life Insurance Dilemma

Many people first purchase term life insurance to protect their family's financial interests after a significant life event, such as getting married or the birth of a child.

You may have done the same for your family when you purchased your policy years ago. And chances are, other than paying the premiums, you probably haven't given it much thought since then. However, if your term life insurance policy is set to expire in the near future, it's important to explore your options now before the coverage runs out.

Before you get started, you first need to reevaluate your life insurance needs by answering questions such as:

  • Are your children still in college?
  • Are you still paying off a mortgage?
  • Do you have a significant amount of outstanding debt?
  • Would your untimely death create financial hardships for your family?

If your answers to any of these questions is “yes,” then you may want to get a new policy or renew your existing policy. However, depending on your situation, you might not need as much coverage as you did when you were younger.

Whether you should purchase a new policy or renew your existing policy depends on several factors, including: Your health, your desired level of coverage, and your willingness to “shop around” for the best premium.

Purchasing a new policy

If you are in relatively good health and your current term life insurance policy is about to run out, you might consider purchasing a new term policy altogether. When applying for a new term life insurance policy, you will generally need to pass a medical exam. In addition, since you are older now, your premiums may be higher than they were under your old policy. However, you may not need as large a policy as you did when you first purchased term life insurance years ago. It may pay to shop around and compare because premiums can vary among insurers.

Renewing your existing policy

When the coverage period for your term life insurance ends, you may have the option to renew the policy, depending on the specific policy and limitations. Though you won't be required to take a medical exam if you renew your policy, the rate will generally increase each time it is renewed for an additional term because your age has increased (as has the insurance company's risk of paying a death benefit). These increased premium costs can sometimes make renewing a term life insurance policy an expensive way to cover your life insurance needs.

Terminate your policy

You may reach a point in your life where you’d paid off your mortgage and most other debts and you’ve built enough of a nest egg that the costs of term life insurance are no longer justified. Or, as you get older, you may want to reallocate the amount you pay for term life insurance to long-term care insurance or other kinds of risk-protection options.   

Converting your policy to permanent life insurance

If you have a convertible term life insurance policy, you may be able to convert it to a permanent life insurance policy, such as whole or universal life insurance. Permanent insurance continues throughout your life as long as you pay the premiums. As with term insurance, permanent insurance pays a death benefit to your beneficiary at your death, but it also contains a cash value account funded by your premium dollars. When you convert your policy, you won't need to prove your insurability by taking a medical exam. However, there is usually a conversion deadline, which is the date by which you must convert, typically before your term life insurance is set to expire.

Before you renew, purchase new or convert

The cost and availability of life insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. As with most financial decisions, there are expenses associated with the purchase of life insurance. Policies commonly have mortality and expense charges. In addition, if a policy is surrendered prematurely, there may be surrender charges and income tax implications. Any guarantees are contingent on the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing company.

The rules governing 1035 exchanges are complex and you may incur surrender charges from your "old" life insurance policy. In addition, you may be subject to new sales and surrender charges for the new policy.


Michael Flaherty is a financial advisor located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at [email protected] or 508.598.1082.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2018. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances.