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If I have life insurance, does my spouse need it?

It’s common for financial advisors to hear a client say that their spouse doesn’t need life insurance. And often the person who says it is either the solo or major breadwinner of the family, says Emily Bouche, Thrivent market director for the Great Lakes Advisor Group.

“I always want to hear more,” says Bouche. “Why do you feel they don’t need life insurance?”

The answer usually revolves around the idea that the client has life insurance and since the stay-at-home parent doesn’t have an income, or their spouse earns less, they’ll still be OK.

“What many don’t think about is the income—both earned and unearned—that will be lost with the death of a spouse,” Bouche says. “They’ll just keep working, and it will be OK.”

This is where Bouche likes to play out some scenarios, to encourage clients to think about the what-ifs if their spouse should die.

  • How will you handle outstanding debt—mortgage, car payments, education?

  • Who will care for your children, if you have them, while you're working?

  • Who will maintain your home—making meals, cleaning, maintaining the yard?

  • How will you cover future needs, such as kids’ college education or weddings, or your retirement?

  • What about the emotional impact on you and your children? What if you can’t work for a while?

Everyone has a human life value—the amount of financial loss your family would incur if you were to die today. It factors in the costs of the questions above.

“People just underestimate what that number really is,” says Nate Heeg, a Thrivent financial advisor in Marshfield, Wisconsin.

Heeg shares the story of a client couple who both applied for life insurance. He worked, she stayed at home with their young children. She purchased a contract, he didn’t. “He felt he was good. His spouse had it, so he said he didn’t need life insurance,” Heeg says.

Four years later, she was diagnosed with cancer. She died a year later. “We had talked through a plan if something should happen, what he would need to do to keep working,” Heeg says. “He had to put it all into play. He also realized that if the roles had been reversed and he had died, it really would have been a mess.”

Both Bouche and Heeg have a strong conviction about the need for life insurance, much of it born out of families they’ve seen walk the path after a spouse dies.

“You have to cover yourself to the extent that you know your spouse is going to be OK without needing to change their lifestyle if you die,” Heeg says. “You can’t afford to not have it. Both of you.”

The client’s experience may not be the same as other clients and does not indicate future performance or success.