People often get life insurance to protect their children in case the unthinkable happens. However, you may still need life insurance after your kids are grown. 

If you don’t already have a policy — or if your term insurance expired — it may not be too late to get coverage, even if you’re in your senior years. 

You have two kinds of life insurance options: 

  • Term life
  • Permanent life 

Term insurance usually has lower annual premiums but expires after a period, such as 10, 20 or 30 years. People generally think of term insurance for young families. For example, you may get a 20-year policy that keeps premiums level until your kids are in college or a 30-year policy that lasts until they’re on their own. 

Permanent insurance, on the other hand, doesn’t expire as long as you make premium payments. Some types of permanent insurance, such as whole life, also build cash value. With cash value, you can borrow or withdraw for any reason while you’re still alive (the insurer usually subtracts withdrawals from the death benefit).

Permanent insurance works best for seniors in many cases. The policy never expires. Being guaranteed a death benefit is important if you have a child with special needs who will always need financial support or you want to leave a legacy to your kids, grandkids or a charity after you die.

But permanent insurance’s annual premiums are much higher than term life insurance. For example, a 60-year-old man in the best health class who wants a policy with a $250,000 death benefit could pay $778 per year for a 10-year term insurance policy or $1,395 per year for a 20-year term policy, according to MassMutual. 

If he wanted a permanent policy, he could pay $5,537 per year for a guaranteed universal life insurance policy (which builds minimal cash value but never expires) or $10,078 per year for a whole life policy (which has more cash value), according to MassMutual.

If you only need insurance for a limited time and want to pay the lowest premiums, you may prefer a term insurance policy even in your 60s or 70s. For example, you may want the coverage until you pay off your mortgage or other debts or you may want to provide extra income for your spouse if you die in the early years of retirement.

 

Can seniors get term insurance?

You may still be able to get term insurance in your 60s or 70s, depending on the term’s length. For example, if you’re 75, you may be able to get a 10-year term policy but not a 20-year term policy. 

“In general, term life insurance does not run beyond age 85 with guaranteed premiums,” says Paul Lapiana, head of MassMutual’s U.S. product. 

You may be able to qualify for permanent insurance at older ages than term insurance. If you’re healthy, you may get a permanent life policy up to age 80 or 85, depending on the company.

If you change your mind and decide you want coverage to last longer than your policy’s term, you may be able to convert the term policy to permanent insurance. Your premiums will be higher after you convert. However, the insurer will base them on your health status when you originally bought the term policy, which can help if you’ve developed any medical conditions since first getting a policy. 

The specific options vary by policy and company. Some only let you convert to certain permanent policies and limit the amount of time you can convert. For example, you may only be able to convert within the first 10 years of a 20-year policy. But you may have other options. 

“We offer conversion to any of our permanent policies,” says MassMutual’s Lapiana. “Term policies with standard conversion periods of 10 years are available, as well as policies with extended conversion periods for the full-term coverage period, up to 20 years.”

 

Term life insurance for seniors without medical exams

If you have health issues, you may have a difficult time finding affordable term insurance. Insurers may charge much higher premiums or reject you. 

Some insurance companies offer term insurance policies for seniors regardless of their health through guaranteed issue and simplified issue policies:

  • Guaranteed issue — These policies don’t require a medical exam and the insurer doesn’t ask any medical history questions. They’re more expensive than standard term life policies because the insurer assumes many buyers will have health issues. The insurer may also limit the coverage amount.
  • Simplified issue — These policies don’t require a medical exam, but the company asks a handful of health-related questions. The insurer uses that information to assess your risk. 

You may get a simplified issue policy if you meet certain medical requirements on your application, which also depends on your age and policy size. The premiums for these policies may be more competitive than guaranteed issue policies, but you can still get rejected if you have major health issues. 

More insurers moved toward simplified issue policies during coronavirus shutdowns (or limited the ages of new buyers, sometimes to age 70 and younger). Some companies have since resumed their original requirements, which often require a paramedical exam that includes blood and other tests.

If you’re unsure whether you’d qualify for a policy based on your health, it’s a good idea to do some research ahead of time. Keith Moeller, a wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual in Minneapolis, typically asks clients questions about their health before they apply for a policy. The company also contacts insurance company underwriters to determine whether it looks like the applicant would qualify for coverage and what rate class they’re likely to receive — such as the best, second best or third best rates. 

“You don’t have to be in perfect health,” he says.

It can also help provide detailed documentation of any medical issues and treatment, which could help you qualify for coverage. Some medical conditions that caused automatic rejections previously can now be covered in certain circumstances, such as heart attacks and some types of cancer, depending on the severity of the condition and the treatment details.

 

How much does term life insurance cost for seniors?

An insurer generally bases term insurance premiums on age, health and the policy’s length. 

For example, MassMutual estimates that a healthy 60-year-old man would pay:

  • $778 per year for a $250,000 10-year term policy 
  • $1,395 per year for a $250,000 20-year term policy

A healthy 70-year-old man would pay:

  • $2,275 per year for a 10-year $250,000 policy with MassMutual
  • A 70-year-old isn’t eligible for a 20-year term life policy

Premiums are usually lower for women because their average life expectancy is longer — and they’re more likely to outlive the policy’s term.

Here’s a look at the average annual premiums for a $250,000 guaranteed level term life policy for a person classified as “Regular” health:

 10-year policy15-year policy
65-year-old woman $1,928 $2,759
65-year-old man $2,859 $3,897
70-year-old woman $3,268 $4,700
70-year-old man $4,945 $6,713
75-year-old woman $5,710 $9,853
75-year-old man $8,718 $13,184

Best term life insurance for seniors

Some insurance companies specialize in seniors, but it’s also a good idea to compare rates from insurers that cover people of all ages. You may be surprised to qualify for coverage with more insurers than you expect. 

Your life insurance options may be limited if you have major health issues or only want a small policy, such as $25,000 or less to cover funeral expenses. Some senior life insurance policies that have guaranteed issue coverage may limit the death benefit to the amount you paid in premiums (plus interest) over the first year or two. Check on the insurer’s financial strength rating, too.

See Insure’s Best Life Insurance Companies. 

Also, consider whether the term policy can convert to permanent insurance and how that option works. For example, MassMutual lets you convert to any of its permanent policies and buy a rider that will waive the premiums in some circumstances. 

“If you have a disability waiver of premium rider on a term policy and become disabled, you can convert to whole life insurance and we will automatically waive the premium for the whole life insurance policy,” says Lapiana.

Some life insurance policies can also provide long-term care benefits if you need help with daily living activities. These extra benefits are usually more common for permanent insurance. Some term policies may let you add related benefits or offer an accelerated death benefit rider, which allows you to tap a portion of the death benefit while you’re alive if you have a terminal illness.