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What is Life Assurance

Sep 11, 2008
Most people who are married or who have any dependents would be horrified by the thought of their untimely death leaving their family with hefty bills to pay, an outstanding mortgage to struggle to meet, or a sudden decline in their standard of living. Life assurance - which guarantees an agreed lump sum benefit in the event of the policy holder's death - is designed to take the sting out of just such worries.

You will probably have noticed this type of insurance variously described as life insurance or life assurance and you might have wondered why. The reason for the distinction - which these days is often blurred - arises from the fact that insurance is about the risk of something happening. Death, on the other hand, is the one certainty that all of us can count on as happening at some time. The description life assurance, therefore, was coined for the contract under which a life assurance company agreed to pay out an assured sum upon the policy holder's death.

To add a little more confusion to the picture, most life assurance sold today takes the form of term life assurance. With term life assurance, cover is extended for a predetermined number of years and if the policy holder dies within that period, the assured lump sum is indeed paid. If the policy holder survives the agreed term, however, then no benefit at all is paid. It could be argued that this arrangement is indeed life insurance, since the risk is being taken whether or not the policy holder will die within the term of the insurance. Purists might argue, therefore, that the label "life assurance" should be reserved for something called whole-of-life assurance which pays a lump sum to the policy holder's beneficiaries at whatever time death occurs.

Suffice it to say that the terms life assurance and life insurance are, in common usage, practically interchangeable. As noted, whole-of-life assurance will almost always pay out, so its premiums tend to be somewhat higher than standard term life assurance. Whole-of-life assurance is also generally packaged with an investment plan, designed to enhance the final payout, and this too increases the price of the premiums.

Standard term life assurance, however, remains remarkably cheap. Indeed, it is one of the few products in any market which has actually come down in price over the past decade. The level of benefits payable under a term life assurance policy are directly proportional to the level of premiums paid, so it is very much a question of choice as to how much protection is bought. It also comes in a number of different types, to suit a variety of personal circumstances.

The most popular variation is level term life assurance. It is called level term because the assured lump sum benefit remains the same throughout the insured term. Decreasing term life assurance, on the other hand and just as its name suggests, offers a decreasing death benefit during the course of the term. With a steadily decreasing sum at risk, the life assurance company can charge an even lower premium, making this the ideal choice for someone who wishes to ensure that a standard repayment mortgage (on which the balance is also steadily decreasing) is fully paid off in the event of their death. For those who want to build in some degree of increasing benefit, there is either increasing term life assurance (with the lump sum benefit increasing by predetermined annual increments) or index-linked term life assurance (where the benefit payable increases in line with inflation).
About the Author
David Thomson is Chief Executive of BestDealInsurance an independent specialist broker dedicated to providing their clients with the best deal on their life insurance, critical illness cover and home and motor insurance.
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