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The life insurance contestability period is a short window when insurance companies can investigate and deny death claims. This period is usually a maximum of two years from a policy becoming active, and only applies to policyholders who intentionally lied on their life insurance application. 

While the contestability period is when insurers are the most likely to investigate a death claim, they can investigate any claim at any time if there are signs of fraud. For this reason, it’s important to be completely honest on your life insurance application — while lying on the application may get you lower premiums in the short run, it may mean no financial support for your family later on.

At the end of the day, a contestability period is set to protect the insurance company from fraud and to ensure you as a customer are getting the best plan for your health and lifestyle. It only benefits you and your family the more honest you are.

Key Takeaways

  • The life insurance contestability period is a short time when the insurance company can investigate your claim.
  • Life insurance companies can examine the claims to make sure the decision was based on correct information.
  • If you did not pay the premium, your insurance will lapse, and another two-year contestability period will start if you get the policy reinstated.

What is the life insurance contestability period?

If you die within the contestability period, the life insurance company can investigate whether you gave accurate information on your life insurance application about your health, hobbies, occupations, drug use, alcohol use, and tobacco use. The company can deny paying the death benefit if you lied about your health or lifestyle at the time of application — even if the cause of death has nothing to do with misrepresentation on your application.

For example, if you scuba dive, but were not transparent about being a scuba diver on your application and passed from a scuba diving accident, a company may not pay your family the death benefit. Also, if you had known terminal cancer, but died in a scuba diving accident within the contestability period, your insurance company could still deny your family the benefits because you lied on the application. This is why it’s very important for you to be totally honest about your lifestyle and health when you apply for life insurance. Not doing so risks the financial support you are securing for your family if you die.

How long is the life insurance contestability period?

While most other states have a contestability period of two years, Missouri has a contestability period of one year. Additionally, some companies may have different contestability periods that are lower than the two-period range.

Although the contestability period typically ends after the first few years of a policy being active, insurers can still deny claims later on if you intentionally lied when you applied for coverage. However, it is less likely that an insurer will investigate your death for any fraudulent claims if you die outside of the contestability period window.

Additionally, your contestability period renews if your policy lapses due to nonpayment of premiums. If you still want coverage after your policy lapses you will need to resubmit an application and may have higher premiums due to your current health and age at the time. You will also have another contestability period.

How the contestability period works

Not all claims filed within the contestability period are investigated. While the insurance company has the legal right to investigate during the contestability period, they usually only do so when there is a reason to suspect misrepresentation.

For example, if someone had claimed to be a non-smoker during their application process, but passed away from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) within the first two years of their policy, an investigation process would include viewing lab results to indicate use of tobacco.

If your claim is investigated and the insurer finds an instance of fraud, two things can happen: 

1. If the missing information would have caused your application to be denied originally, zero death benefit will be paid to your family.

2. If the missing information would have just made your premiums higher, the difference of the premiums will be taken from the death benefit amount and your family would receive the remaining balance.

Seven things to know about the contestability period

Want to make sure you don’t jeopardize your family’s financial health? Here’s everything you need to know about the contestability period and how to ensure your family gets the death benefit if you pass away.

1. You put your family at risk if you lie on your life insurance application

Don’t lie or withhold information to get lower rates and then hope you’ll live through the contestability period, says Keith Friedman, principal of FBO Strategies, an estate and insurance firm in Stamford, CT.

“My advice is to be honest and don’t make it difficult for your family,” he says.

If you lie and then die during the contestability period, your loved ones could be left without a death benefit payout if the life insurance company figures out that you lied. 

2. The insurance company still has to honor the contract if you die during the contestability period.

Life insurance companies can investigate the claim during the contestability period to make sure the underwriting decision was based on accurate information. But it still has to pay the death benefit if there are no signs of fraud.

The insurer has to pay up even if you die an hour after the life insurance policy becomes active.

3.The life insurance company could pay the claim even if you got some facts wrong

The insurer has a couple of options if an investigation finds you misrepresented facts on your application. If you made a small accidental mistake on your application, this doesn’t mean you will be automatically penalized. Insurers are looking for fraudulent claims about your health and lifestyle. 

4. You could still get in trouble if you commit fraud and live beyond the contestability period.

You should never lie on your life insurance application because you are still not in the clear if you live more than two years after the policy becomes active. Insurance companies can still take action if fraud comes to light.

One example is if you claimed you were a nonsmoker and then die from a smoking-related illness. You benefited from years of paying much lower premiums because the insurer thought you were a nonsmoker. If the company finds out that you were in fact a smoker, the insurer will consider it fraud and decline paying the death benefit to your family. 

5. The contestability period is different than the suicide clause

Almost all life insurance policies have a suicide clause. It often gets confused with the contestability period, but the two are separate clauses.

Under the suicide clause, the life insurance company won’t pay the death benefit and will return premiums if the insured dies by suicide within the first two years of the policy. After two years, the policy will pay out even if the cause of death is suicide.

6. Your family might wait longer for the money if you die during the contestability period

An insurer probably won’t look into a claim when the insured dies in a car accident. But a company will likely investigate a claim if the insured dies of a health-related cause –- such as a “non-smoker” who dies from lung cancer.

Life insurance rates for smokers are much higher than nonsmokers. So, life insurers will investigate your death if you die from a smoking-related disease though you claimed you were a nonsmoker. If they need to investigate your application, the death benefit payout will take longer.

But if there was no wrongdoing, the insurer will owe the beneficiary interest on the death benefit once payment is made.

7. A new contestability period begins in some cases.

If your policy lapses because you didn’t pay the premium, another two-year contestability period begins if you get the policy reinstated.

If you’re thinking of getting life insurance, you can use Insure’s Life Insurance Coverage Calculator to determine how much insurance you need. 

Frequently asked questions

Do all life insurance policies have a two-year contestability period?

No. Double-check your policy and read it closely. It may have an incontestability clause. Also, some companies/states only have a one-year contestability period.

What happens after the contestability period?

After the contestability period, with most insurance policies, the policy begins to be incontestable. Again, it’s important to read through your policy to guarantee the length of the contestability period and that it is enforced.

Can a life insurance company deny a claim after two years?

In most cases, after the contestability period ends, a life insurance company cannot deny a claim. It is still possible if you intentionally misrepresented facts on your application, but very unlikely. A claim years down the road has less of a chance of being investigated.

author image
Laine Adley
Contributing Researcher

 
  

Laine Adley is a licensed life, health and annuities insurance agent in 12 states and specializes in final expense, whole life and term life insurance products.

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