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Life insurance for married couples: Why & when you may need it

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Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

Life insurance for married couples is an act of love. It acknowledges how important each partner's contribution is to the life you're building together and helps you prepare for the possibility of something happening to one of you.

Nothing can protect against the heartache of such a loss, but life insurance can prevent the financial challenges that often accompany it. Here's how you and your spouse can approach life insurance planning together.

5 reasons married people have life insurance

When you have life insurance, you make payments that provide you with coverage including death benefits for your beneficiaries. This payout is often tax-advantaged and passes to the named people without going through probate court. Depending on the type of life insurance you choose, your contract may also offer cash value.

Here are some reasons married couples may want life insurance.

1. Life insurance can replace income from a spouse

When you and your spouse each have a life insurance contract and you name each other as beneficiaries, you can feel confident your loved one will remain financially comfortable if your life ends before you've accumulated enough assets to stop working. Death benefits can replace lost income and pay for childcare and other services a spouse provides.

2. Life insurance can help the surviving spouse cover debts

You may now or one day have significant debts you don't want your spouse to be burdened with. While some debts, such as student loans, are discharged upon death, most have to be repaid from the deceased's estate. In particular, term life insurance for married couples can be important when you have to repay a mortgage.

In some cases, loan servicers accelerate a debt when a borrower dies, meaning it becomes due and payable all at once, and any previous monthly payment schedule no longer applies. Facing a shortened timeframe to repay a debt can be stressful, but life insurance can alleviate any pressure.

3. It can go toward paying final expenses

End-of-life care can leave surviving spouses with medical bills. Further, funeral and burial expenses can easily exceed $10,000. Life insurance can help a surviving spouse cover these costs.

4. Life insurance can help maintain your child's quality of life

If you and your spouse have children or might in the future, you likely want to prevent your dependent children from facing financial challenges if a parent dies prematurely.

To avoid leaving money to minor children or to a relative who may or may not use intended funds to care for the children, some couples make their life insurance benefits payable to a trust. A financial institution can serve as the trustee to carry out your wishes for how and when your children receive their inheritance.

5. The death benefit from life insurance can leave behind a legacy

When you use whole life insurance to build wealth, you create a way to leave money to the people or causes you care about. You can leave your contract's cash value to loved ones, or you can leave a significant gift to your church or another organization. Term life insurance is also an affordable way to add to your legacy; the premiums are less expensive than plans that offer cash value.

Illustration of two figures talking.
Illustration of two people talking with each other. With a question mark between them.

Life insurance: A conversation guide

From vacations to college dreams, creating life plans with loved ones is one of the many joys in life. But when it comes to more sensitive topics, like unexpected death, it can be tempting to avoid the topic. But self-reflection and a family conversation can help you prioritize what's most important to you.

See the guide

Life insurance options for married couples

You and your spouse may each have one or more separate life insurance contracts, or you can get joint coverage. Here are some different scenarios you might encounter in married life:

Separate contracts

It's common for spouses to have separate life insurance contracts. One person may already have coverage through their work, while another may hold an individual contract.

Knowing that someone is relying on you to carry on the life you've built together can motivate you to get more coverage. One or both of you might want to purchase a new contract for various reasons:

  • To provide personalized coverage for each spouse's needs
  • To have term coverage for more years
  • To get permanent coverage that lasts and offers accumulated cash value
  • To obtain enough coverage regardless of where you work
  • To secure a larger death benefit in case you have children or start a business
  • To maintain separate coverage benefiting children from previous relationships
  • To support a family member with lifelong special needs

Joint contracts

A joint survivorship contract is another option. Paying one premium provides permanent coverage for two people. The contract can be set up to pay out benefits after the second person dies.

Joint life insurance may be a good choice when:

  • You want a more economical way to get the coverage you need.
  • An older or less healthy spouse needs a way to get coverage.
  • You're seeking the means to cover estate taxes after the second spouse dies.
  • You're interested in providing a financial legacy to your children/beneficiaries upon the second death.

When should a married couple buy life insurance?

It's usually best to purchase life insurance as early as is feasible for you. That's because the younger and healthier you are, the lower your premiums are likely to be. However, it may be especially important for you and your spouse to purchase coverage or reevaluate your existing coverage at specific milestones.

Buying a home

Most people take out a mortgage to buy a home, and you may not want to risk leaving your spouse to cover the entire payment by themselves. Along with the monthly principal and interest on a mortgage, the ongoing financial obligations of owning a home include property taxes, homeowners insurance, maintenance and repairs.

Getting at least enough life insurance to pay off the mortgage can provide a sense of reassurance that your spouse won't have to move if you pass away.

Expanding the family

If you decide to raise children together, you may want to protect them with life insurance. The death benefit can maintain their comfortable standard of living if you pass away before they're financially independent.

Starting a business

Getting enough life insurance to pay off business debts, buy out a business partner or keep the business running until it can be sold can help protect your family, your employees and your clients.

If you start a business during your marriage or enter the marriage with a business you haven't properly insured, it's smart to look into the protection life insurance could offer.

Help with evaluating your life insurance options

Married couples may want to consider life insurance because of the role it can play in maintaining a comfortable living standard for a surviving spouse, children or adult dependents. Death benefits can be used to pay off a mortgage, keep a small business running, cover final expenses or leave a legacy.

It's never too soon or too late in your married life to consider life insurance. You can often secure better premiums for individual or joint coverage when you're young and healthy. But you may also find your budget has room for different life insurance options later in life.

For help understanding and evaluating your contract options, a Thrivent financial advisor can support you and your spouse in choosing the best life insurance for your situation.

This contract has exclusions, limitations and terms under which the benefits may be reduced, or the contract may be discontinued. For costs and complete details of coverage, contact your licensed insurance agent/producer.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

If requested, a licensed insurance agent/producer may contact you and financial solutions, including insurance may be solicited.