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What is joint life insurance?

Joint life insuranceJoint life insurance policies are designed to cover couples or partnerships in the event of either partner’s death. But why might this be preferable to a standard policy covering just one party?

Life insurance is designed to ensure that your dependents do not suffer financially in the event of your death, and traditionally many policies were set up to cover the main breadwinner of the family.

As this person makes the most significant financial contribution to the running of the household, this approach might appear to make sense.

But the consequences of the other partner’s death – even if they don’t earn as much, or have no income because they look after the children full-time – can also be serious from a financial point of view.

This is why it’s worth considering taking out life insurance that covers either partner’s potential death.

Equal contributions

Many families today have two breadwinners. Often the loss of either income would create huge financial problems. In situations such as these, the case for insuring both partners’ lives is easy to make. But that doesn’t mean that a stay-at-home father or mother shouldn’t be insured in the same way.

After all, their work – in bringing up children and looking after the home, for example – has considerable value, even if they are not paid directly for it. If a stay-at-home parent died, their partner would face a significant extra financial burden. Either they would have to work less in order to devote more time to their family, or they would have to pay for extra help such as nursery care or domestic help. It’s clear that in circumstances such as these, it’s important for both partners to have life insurance.

Your cover options

When it comes to insuring two people, there are two options. Each person can take out their own life insurance policy, or they can take out a joint-life policy.

Let's have a look at the differences

The extent of cover: With two separate policies, the insurance will pay out when either policyholder dies during the policy term. With a joint-life policy the payout is on the first death only. After this, the other policyholder will no longer be covered.

This could create further problems in the future: if the surviving partner needs to find new life insurance later in life, it’s likely to be more expensive because they’re older. And, if they have suffered any health or medical problems since the original cover was set up, this will increase the premiums further.

Price: Because two separate policies offer a greater amount of cover, they are normally more expensive than a joint-life policy. But the difference can be very small, and it’s worth comparing prices for both options.

If there's not much in it, you may feel happier with the extra protection that separate policies can offer. If you’re buying term insurance, which only lasts for a fixed number of years, the price difference is likely to be smaller. With whole-of-life cover, on the other hand, where the two separate policies are sure to pay out at some point, you can expect there to be a larger price difference.

Flexibility: Taking out two separate policies allows you to insure each life for different amounts, if that is appropriate. The main earner in your family, for example, may be insured for a greater sum than a stay-at-home parent. And problems could arise if a couple with a joint life insurance policy decide to separate: an insurer would be unlikely or unable to split the cover, which would leave either party needing to arrange their own insurance again from scratch. This could prove expensive if, as explained above, a lot of time has passed (premiums for life insurance are higher the older you are) or if you've suffered any health problems since the original cover was arranged.

Reducing your family's tax bill

When you set up a life insurance policy, it’s also worth thinking about how to make sure your dependents can get hold of any payout with the lowest possible tax charge. Writing your life insurance policy in trust means the cover is ring-fenced outside the rest of your assets, such as savings, investments and property.

This means that payments from the policy are not included in your estate for inheritance tax purposes. At the moment, inheritance tax is charged at 40% on any bequeathed assets above the £325,000 threshold.

Recent rule changes mean that the surviving spouse or civil partner can receive any unused portion of their late partner’s £325,000 allowance. But depending on the value of any property or investments you have, up to 40% of a life insurance payment could end up in the taxman’s hands if the policy is not written in trust.

A joint-life policy can be written in trust so the payout goes to the surviving spouse or to any children in the event of both parents’ deaths. A trust is normally simple and cheap (or even free) to set up: talk to your insurer when you take out your policy, but bear in mind that a trust is not appropriate in all circumstances.

Key points to be aware of on joint life insurance policies

  • The advantages of joint life cover are that it pays out regardless of which partner dies, and is cheaper than taking out two individual life insurance policies. It may be good for young couples who are trying to save money on premiums, or for business partners.
  • Joint cover offers extra protection over taking out just one individual policy for the main breadwinner. Even where one person may stay at home to look after the kids, it’s usually worth having some cover for them as if they were to die, childcare costs could be a significant burden.
  • Where the salaries of each partner in the home are vastly different, it may be worth taking out two individual policies - one each. These can be tailored to provide adequate cover for each person.
  • Taking out two individual policies of the same amount will cost more than the equivalent joint policy, but provides double the cover.
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