In the interest of full disclosure, my older brother passed from a heart attack recently. I’m still reeling from everything as we plan the funeral and figure out his estate. I’m going to miss him dearly, and I’m mourning his loss.
But it gives me pause as I visit the topic of life insurance after a heart attack. When I first investigated this topic several years ago, it was after my brother had his first cardiac event. We were trying to figure out his coverage options (as I’ll go into below). He did have group coverage through his employer, but that plan was gone when he retired, precisely a month before he passed. He went from a million-dollar policy to no insurance to leave behind.
If you or a loved one has had a heart attack (or another major health issue), there are still coverage options. Your life insurance after a heart attack may be more expensive and it may look a little different, but you still have choices available. Here’s what you need to know about securing life insurance after a heart attack.
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The Significance of Family History and Life Insurance
Because I believe in honesty and candidness on this blog, I’m going to get a little more personal. Even before my brother’s passing, I’ve had to explore a lot about the nuances of life insurance with health issues.
My grandfather passed away at the age of 55 from a heart attack, as he was sitting in his doctor’s office waiting room! When the nurse called him for his appointment, the staff thought he had fallen asleep. They were soon shocked to discover that wasn’t the case.
I have a history of heart disease in my family. My dad used to joke that since his father AND grandfather passed away from heart attacks (both at age 55), he’d “clock out” at that age too. To give you a little background on my dad (and the way his mind and sense of humor were wired), he was Swedish and would proudly proclaim his Viking status any chance he got. He was a mechanical engineer too, which, as you may know, engineers are an unusual breed. He always said when he died, “Just push my burning body off into the ocean on my raft!” Um…no.
Clearly, my dad had a warped sense of humor. Fortunately, he was with us until he passed at age 83. So much for “clocking out” at 55, Dad! Oh, and there was no raft or burning body at the funeral.
From this family line came my brother, who had never admitted to being sick a day in his life before his first heart attack. He was a smoker, however, and ended up with a triple bypass at 58. It was touch-and-go during the first several weeks following the heart attack. It seemed that his bewitching hour was 11:00 pm almost every night in the hospital when he would have an “episode” and take a turn. The bells and whistles of the machines would go off; nurses would rush into his room and kick us out (those who could fit — I’m telling you, there were a LOT of machines in that room).
He ended up in an induced coma for six weeks in the hospital. Family emotions were all over the place during that time. Thankfully, after quitting smoking and making a recovery, he got to spend ten more years with us after his heart attack, until this past month.
I share this family health history with you because it’s likely that your family history has similar areas of concern. Since my family has a history of heart disease, if I apply for more life insurance, I will never get the best rating — the Perfect Specimen rating, as I call it. Because my brother was under 60 when he had his triple bypass, I will have a particularly difficult time. Of course, let’s be honest — I would never get the best rating because I’m too far “under-tall” as well. Yes, height and weight is also a factor in those damn actuarial tables!
But there is good news in all of this when it comes to life insurance. If you already have a life insurance policy (hopefully, a permanent, not temporary policy), your carrier can’t cancel it because you develop heart disease.
If you have a term life insurance policy, NOW is an excellent time to see if it’s convertible to a permanent life insurance policy. If you’re able to convert it to a permanent policy, strongly consider the option. You may be able to decrease the death benefit amount, but you likely can’t increase it. Yes, your premium on that converted life insurance policy will be higher, but that premium will be locked in for the rest of your life.
“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” — Elbert Hubbard
Life Insurance After a Heart Attack: What Are Your Options?
If you or your loved one doesn’t yet have a life insurance policy, there are still options. It’s time to sit down and have a real conversation and do some research.
Now, I know that life insurance is a touchy subject, especially for someone with heart disease. No one likes to talk about mortality, even on a good day. The topic gets even more delicate when you don’t have great health on your side. If you (or a loved one) have had a stent put in or recently experienced a cardiac event, you likely want to avoid the whole idea altogether.
But if there’s a silver lining in surviving something as frightening as a heart attack, it’s that it gives you a chance to get your financial house in order. Any health setback is scary, but facing the hard truth that the setback is the REAL reason you’re putting off securing life insurance? It’s a hard pill to swallow. If you have heart disease, your mortality is pretty much at the forefront of your mind (whether you face it or not).
Now, to get a little pop-psychology on you here. It may be helpful to ask yourself WHY you’re choosing to avoid the topic of life insurance after a heart attack. Maybe you’re the type who doesn’t like to share your feelings. Perhaps you keep them inside because you don’t want to upset loved ones by expressing fears about how much time you really have left. Yes, you made it this time, but what if, like my brother, the next time you don’t pull through?
The real questions should be, what financial position are you leaving your family, your significant other, and your business partners in? You’ll be gone and your troubles are over; they’re the ones who must face the situation and muddle through, while also coping with grief.
Not to upset you, but if you’re still avoiding the idea, here’s some tough love: at some point, everyone’s life ends. We will all eventually die. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” One way or another, we aren’t getting off this ride alive.
I know it’s a lot to take in, especially if you’re freshly dealing with this new health crisis. You may feel alone and scared. The good news here is that life insurance after a heart attack or procedure IS possible.
“Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end.”– William Hazlitt (1778 – 1830, English writer)
Securing a Life Insurance Policy After a Cardiac Event: Remember Three Things
You’re facing reality and realizing you need to secure a life insurance policy after your heart attack. The realization is the hardest step! Now, as you move forward, I want you to remember these three points:
- You are definitely NOT alone.
- The chances are high that you’ll find a life insurance carrier specializing in high-risk (table rated) cases.
- Your chances of securing life insurance coverage have significantly increased over the past few years, so there’s never been a better time.
Yes, finding life insurance after a heart attack will require research. Yes, the premiums will cost more. But it’s still doable.
Let’s define “high-risk” from a life insurance perspective. Life insurance carriers use specific metrics to predict your life expectancy (also known as actuarial tables). These metrics include an array of factors. As I mentioned before, family history, weight (over OR under the ideal), and even height can be considered detrimental to your rating. But very few people end up with a “perfect specimen” rating anyway. Most of us have some health risk factors lurking in our history or our family tree.
People who are at higher risk are known as table rated. A table rating means the company approves your policy at less than a standard rating. Now, usually people FREAK when they hear they’re approved for life insurance at a less-than-favorable rating, especially with higher premiums, but a table rating is very common. Unless your policy has been flat out declined or postponed during the underwriting process, you’re actually in a good position. At least you’re able to secure a life insurance policy.
Be Prepared When You Apply for Health Insurance After a Heart Attack
After a heart attack, you may feel ready to get everything in order right away. So how long should you wait before applying for life insurance? Most carriers require you to wait at least six months after your cardiac event before applying for life insurance coverage.
Now, when you apply for life insurance, I want to prepare you for the questions the carrier will most likely ask. If you’ve had a stent placed, a heart procedure, or a full heart attack, transparency is critical for finding your coverage with the best-fitting insurance carrier.
When you apply, the life insurance carrier will likely ask:
- Your gender
- Your date of birth
- If you’re a smoker, or if you’ve ever smoked in the past
- Do you have a family history of heart disease?
- Have you had a heart attack or a stroke?
- What medications are you currently taking?
- How many stents do you have?
- When was the last stent placed?
- When was your last follow-up appointment?
I know, it gets personal. But these are the questions you should prepare to answer. As your policy gets further into the underwriting process, the underwriters will take a deep dive into your health history. They’ll see all your recent health information from physicians and surgeons. All this information enables them to make the determination on your rating and how to approve your policy.
Here’s a little tidbit to keep in mind — because you’ve had a stent or a heart attack, your family history will always be considered when you apply for life insurance. It doesn’t matter if there’s a significant medical history there or not.
Prepare for Follow Up After the Application
As your policy is in the underwriting process, you’ll likely receive a call from a third-party company that is working on behalf of your insurance carrier. This company will ask you questions about your health history and your family’s health history.
Yes, it may feel redundant (especially when you feel like you’ve just bared your soul on the life insurance application), but consider it an honesty check. All parties want to ensure what you said on your application matches the questions you’re answering for the second time. It’s all about transparency.
Now, granted, you may not know all the medical terms. What’s a myocardial infarction? What type of procedure did I undergo? But your doctors will know all of the answers, and will be heavily noted in your medical records. (FYI, a myocardial infarction is the medical term for a heart attack.)
After the application, there’s what’s called a contestability period. Yes, life insurance covers death from a heart attack, and the payout will go to your beneficiaries, but it may occur after the contestability period of your policy. There is a specific window of time (which varies by state) where companies can investigate and deny claims. This window is typically two years, and the clock begins as soon as your policy goes into effect.
The contestability period exists to protect the life insurance carrier. It allows them to void the policy due to misrepresentations from the applicant at the submission of the policy. It’s essential to be honest when you apply for a life insurance policy (you may notice a theme here: be completely transparent)!
You won’t be able to pull one over on your life insurance company. If you eliminate any information on the application or during the third-party call, they WILL always find out. When they notice, they’ll also wonder what else you’re hiding and may decline your policy outright, and not proceed with the underwriting process.
To underscore the critical nature of transparency, don’t assume if a carrier denies your coverage, you can apply to multiple other life insurance carriers until one agrees to cover you. They will find out; insurance carriers communicate with each other. So if you’re postponed or declined (and there is a difference between the two), don’t roll the dice with a new carrier thinking they won’t know.
Simply be honest with the insurance carrier. I can almost guarantee they won’t ask you a question you don’t already know how to answer. Tell them the truth and let them see what works best for your situation.
I really want you to consider exploring life insurance, even if you’ve been declined in the past. No matter your health history, you’ll have options available. Not only do you owe it to yourself to bring peace of mind (and less stress) into your life, but you owe it to those who depend on you. When you’re gone, life insurance will take the burden off your grieving family and allow them to take comfort as they celebrate the memories of your life.
“You don’t buy life insurance because you are going to die, but because those you love are going to live.”– Unknown Author
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