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On the rise: impact of a premature death, lack of life insurance

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Much has been written about America’s life insurance coverage gap. A report released last July pegged the shortfall — an aggregate amount combining underinsured and uninsured Americans — at $20.3 trillion. That equates to 60 percent of current in-force life insurance.

Less research, however, has been done exploring how those lacking coverage are coping — or not — following the death of a breadwinner. Enter MetLife, which in a new study observes a rise in the financial impact of a premature death since 2009. The study reveals that post-recession economic changes have heightened financial risks for both uninsured and underinsured Americans.

The report pegs the median income of U.S. households before a spouse’s death in 2009 at $66,000. The total declined to $58,000 in 2015.

The study also shows a commensurate rise in the proportion of Americans who say that death had a “major” or “devastating” impact on them. In terms of financial security, the percentage citing a significant impact increased to 69 percent in 2015 from 63 percent in 2009. Likewise, those citing a major impact on their lifestyle rose to 70 percent from 63 percent over the same time frame.

Surviving spouses in 2015 are also less likely to have life insurance than in 2009. And a key reason cited is cost (likely due, the report notes, to “tighter finances”).

This year, fewer than 6 in 10 survey respondents (59 percent) say they have life insurance. This is down from 68 percent in 2009. Conversely, 41 percent of those polled in 2015 cited cost as a factor for not having life insurance, up from 29 percent in 2009.

Another factor is less support from employers in helping to fund life insurance needs. Less than 4 in 10 survey respondents (38 percent) say have fully employer-paid group policies, down 46 percent in 2009. Yet workers, the survey notes, also tend to rely more group than individual policies to meet their income replacement needs.

“Four in five [respondents] consider group life an important benefit to offer,” the report states. “And feelings about the employer are more positive when the group life insurance being offered is employer-paid.”

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Two-thirds of those with a 3x insurance-to-income ratio found the proceeds very helpful, down from 81 percent in 2009.

  • Nearly one-third (32 percent) of respondents report feeling “not at all financially secure” in the year following their spouse’s death, compared to 25 percent in 2009.

  • More than 8 in 10 (85 percent) of respondents were aware of at least some available assets at the time of a spouse’s death.

  • Only 49 percent were involved in selecting the spouse’s insurance coverage and only 26 percent say their spouse had a will.

  • About one-third used grief counseling services following a spouse’s death; and about one-fourth used an attorney to probate their estate.

See the slides, plus an infographic, beginning on next page for additional highlights from the MetLife survey. (Click on the images to enlarge.)


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