How Family History Affects Your Life Insurance


If you recently applied for life insurance, or even just requested a quote, you may have been surprised when the agent asked about your family’s history of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Not many people realize that life insurance companies take family history into consideration when approving an application.

You may have asked yourself, “Why do life insurance companies care about my family history? What does that have to do with my life insurance premiums anyhow?”

It may seem unfair, but it’s true: life insurance companies look closely at family history of hereditary or genetic diseases. Underwriters review this data along with many other metrics to determine the final rate an insurance company will offer a potential client.

Quick Article Guide

1. Family history: How does it relate to you?
2. Health issues life insurance companies consider when evaluating family history
3. The best companies for families who have a history of health issues
4. Underwriting exceptions for family history
5. How JRC can help you save money on your life insurance

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When approving a life insurance application, life insurance companies have 16 possible rate categories they can offer. Family history is just one of the many factors calculated by an insurance company when deciding what to charge for a life policy.

If someone is in perfect health but has unfavorable family history, some companies will penalize the applicant for their family history and offer them their third best rate class. In contrast to this, another company may ignore a healthy individual’s family history and offer their top rate class, which is preferred best. The difference between the three rate categories is that each level can increase the cost of your life insurance by as much as 20%.

Lucky for you, since you’re reading this, you’ll learn not all life insurance companies evaluate family history the same way. There are even a few exceptions that might surprise you.

In this article we’ll reveal insider knowledge of the underwriting process and discuss how top-rated life insurance companies view family history.

Family history: How does it relate to you?

When you’re shopping for a new life insurance policy, most life insurance companies will ask the following question with some variation:

“Have any of your immediate family members, (i.e. parents or siblings), been diagnosed or died from heart disease, stroke, cancer, or diabetes prior to age 65?”

No two insurance companies underwrite family history the same. Some life insurance carriers are concerned about your relative’s medical history before they reach the age of 65, while others are more lenient and only look at the medical history of close kin prior to age 60. In other words, some companies are not concerned with the health of your immediate family after they reach a certain age. The same is true for the opposite situation so if you apply with the wrong company and had a parent die of heart disease at age 61, you could easily be overpaying for your policy. In fact, your premiums could be as much as 30% more.

Health issues life insurance companies consider when evaluating family history

Every life insurance company has it’s own guidelines for family history and some companies tend to be more lenient than others. For instance, one carrier may see a particular disease as a hereditary high risk while another may not. For this reason, one life company may offer you a more favorable rate than another depending on the disease your immediate family member had.

Life insurance with a family history of heart disease

As of April 2016, according the CDC, heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States. For this reason, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that life insurance companies look closely at family history of coronary artery disease, or CAD.

What separates insurers is how family history of CAD will ultimately affect an applicant’s life insurance premiums. Unfortunately, when it comes to family history of CAD, underwriting is all over the place. Some carriers are concerned if an immediate family member was diagnosed with CAD, while others are only concerned if the diagnosis resulted in death.

There are a few carriers who will still offer a preferred rate to applicants if only one parent died of heart disease prior to age 60. Additionally, there are many carriers who won’t penalize CAD history, occurrence, or death in siblings whatsoever. However, if one or more of your siblings had an occurrence of CAD prior to age 65, there are a handful of companies who will increase your premiums by as much as two rate classes.

To gain a better understanding, let’s use a real life example of a client we recently helped. Robert came to us looking for a $1,000,000, 20-year term life policy. He is an extremely healthy, 49 year old non-smoker who would normally qualify for any carrier’s best rate class; however, his father passed away from a heart attack when he was 57, and with some companies, this family history will prevent him from getting approved at the top rate class.

Since JRC represents the top 40 highly rated companies and our agents have extensive knowledge of underwriting guidelines, we were able to determine that John Hancock had the lowest rates for Robert’s particular situation.

Robert was able to save a substantial amount of money per month because compared to what he was paying with AIG, by purchasing his policy through John Hancock, a company who is more lenient with his family’s history, his total savings is nearly $14k over the 20-year duration. More specifically, this savings breakdown equates to $57.48 monthly, $689.76 annually, which means over the 20-year duration of his policy he will be saving $13,795.20. Below is a comparison chart that shows the variation of rates due to his father’s heart disease.


The chart above exemplifies the real benefit of working with an independent agency like JRC because we are able to shop dozens of life insurance companies instantly to guarantee you’re getting the best deal. Nobody likes to be told they’re paying too much, but we’ve helped thousands of clients replace overpriced policies they would have never purchased had they come to us first. Some of our clients have even told us that they never bought life insurance before they found us because they didn’t realize how affordable life insurance could be.

Life insurance with a family history of cancer

Cancer is the second leading causes of death in the United States. Most people know someone who’s either had cancer or has died from this horrible disease.  With so many types of cancer and each case being treated differently by all carriers, it really takes a veteran life insurance agent to guide you through all the loopholes because insurance companies are reluctant to offer their best rate category to those with a family history of cancer.

Just as is the case with heart disease, some carriers only look at death of a family member due to cancer, while others will charge you higher rates just because a family member was diagnosed.

Additionally, there are gender specific cancers some companies ignore. For example, if you are a male applicant whose mother had ovarian cancer, some carriers will overlook this fact whereas other carriers are not so lenient. We also find that some carriers are only concerned if death from cancer occurred before age 60 or 65, while others are concerned with any diagnosis of cancer before 60 or 65.

Fortunately, there are three large well-known life insurance companies who pretty much ignore a family history of cancer all together. These companies are Banner/William Penn, (both owned by Legal & General America), Lincoln, and VOYA all have the most lenient family history of cancer underwriting guidelines.

You may assume any of these three companies will have the lowest rate if your family is plagued by a history of cancer. While this may be true in most cases, there are a multitude of other factors such as BMI, tobacco use, driving history, prescription medications, etc. that may make another carrier less expensive.

For instance, we recently helped Stuart, a 54 year old healthy male, secure a $500,000, 15-year level term life policy. Unfortunately, he lost both his parents to cancer before age 60. He is very healthy with a good BMI, but smokes E-cigarettes. While Banner, Lincoln and VOYA wouldn’t penalize him for the cancer history, their rates were extremely high due to his nicotine use.

Luckily, Stuart found us online and because of JRC’s extensive underwriting knowledge, we were able to match him with Prudential who doesn’t consider E-cigarettes to be the same as regular cigarettes. The table below shows the rate comparison between Prudential, the company we set him up with, and the other top three carriers who, even though they ignore family history of cancer all together, were priced drastically higher because of his nicotine use.


Had Stuart not been an E-cigarette user, the outcome would have been far different. In order to have a better understanding of the impact nicotine use plays in life insurance pricing, let’s change the scenario and say that Stuart hadn’t touched nicotine in five years. Since he would no longer be considered a nicotine user, the chart below shows the companies that would offer him the most competitive rates in this scenario.


Life insurance with a family history of strokes

According to the most recent CDC report published in April 2016, strokes ranked as the fifth most common cause of death. However in 2015, only 7% of the deaths in the United States were in result of a stroke. For this reason, several life insurance companies still offer their best rate class to people with family history of strokes. While a stroke may be closely related to coronary artery disease (CAD), it’s important to note that life insurance underwriting guidelines vary considerably for those with a family history of strokes versus heart disease.

To give some perspective, we recently helped a 46 year old woman named Tiffany secure a $750,000, 30-year term life policy. Tiffany was in perfect health, did not smoke, and had a good BMI, but unfortunately, she lost her mother due to a stroke at age 59. Even though Tiffany’s family had a history of strokes, there were a few carriers that still offered her their best rate class available. The chart below outlines Tiffany’s options:


Life Insurance with a family history of diabetes

Thanks to medical advancements, diabetes has recently dropped to the seventh most common cause of death. Because of this, very few insurance companies consider a family history of diabetes when underwriting potential insureds. In fact, of our 40 carriers, only two companies, (Assurity and Minnesota Life), will actually penalize someone because a family member was diagnosed with diabetes. Assurity, which is also known as Securian in New York, is best known as a non-medical term and final expense carrier. On the other hand, Minnesota Life’s family history guidelines are stricter than most, but they have some incredible tobacco guidelines.

The majority of life insurance companies look past a person’s family history of diabetes because it is easily treatable with diet, exercise, and medication. However, when you apply for life insurance, the underwriters will usually review your lab results and medical records to determine if you have a higher than average risk of developing diabetes in the future.

The best companies for families who have a history of health issues

Depending on the health issue your immediate family member had, some life insurance companies are more lenient with unfavorable family history than others. The charts below illustrate the best life insurance companies for an applicant whose mother, father, brother, or sister had heart disease, cancer, a stroke, or diabetes before or after the age of 60.

If your family member had any of the health issues listed below when they were 65 or older, or if they are still living, almost all of the insurance companies will overlook your family history. The tables below assume that the health issue was diagnosed before age 60, if not, it may be overlooked by all of the life insurance companies.

Applicants With a Family History of Heart Disease


applicants-with-a-family-history-of-heart-disease-did-applicants-family-member-pass-away-from-heart-disease-after-60Unfortunately, if you had an immediate family member who passed away from heart disease before age 60, none of the carriers will offer you their top rate class which is preferred best. However, there are a few companies that may offer you their second best rate category, preferred.

Applicants With a Family History of Cancer


applicants-with-a-family-history-of-cancer-did-applicants-family-member-pass-away-from-cancer-after-60Almost all life insurance companies overlook basal and squamous cell skin cancers unless the applicant’s immediate family member passed away from complications arising from the cancer. Most carriers will also overlook gender specific cancers if the applicant’s gender is opposite of the family member with cancer.

Applicants With a Family History of Stroke


applicants-with-a-family-history-of-stroke-did-applicants-family-member-pass-away-from-stroke-after-60The majority of the life insurance companies are very lenient with applicants whose immediate family members had a stroke before age 60 but did not pass away as a result of the stroke. As we mentioned above, suffering from a stroke is rarely fatal.

Applicants With a Family History of Diabetes


applicants-with-a-family-history-of-diabetes-did-applicants-family-member-pass-away-from-diabetes-after-60The majority of the life insurance companies are very lenient with applicants whose immediate family members had diabetes even if they passed away before the age of 60.

Underwriting exceptions for family history

Some of our clients tell us that their parent’s poor lifestyle choices were the cause of their health problems, but unfortunately, this will not will cause the underwriter to ignore your family history. It is impossible for insurance companies to quantify this information accurately, which is why they don’t account for lifestyle of a parent or sibling when underwriting family history. However, there are some notable exceptions to family history of hereditary or genetic diseases.

If you were adopted, the life insurance companies will not ask you any questions about your family history. This is because people who were adopted normally do not have access to their family’s history and therefore they are unable to answer accurately. It should be noted that life insurance companies are all in unison with waiving this question for applicants who were adopted.

If either of your parent’s had heart disease caused by rheumatic fever, the life insurance companies will not penalize you for their history of heart disease. Heart damage is one of the symptoms in 50% of people who’ve had rheumatic fever. Although rheumatic fever is uncommon, we’ve worked with dozens of clients whose family history of heart disease was caused by their parent’s exposure to rheumatic fever as a child.

Lastly, nearly all life insurance companies ignore family history all together once the applicant reaches a certain age, but this age varies drastically from carrier to carrier. One may ignore family history once the applicant is above the age of 60, while others consider it relevant until the applicant reaches 75 years of age.

How JRC can help you find the best rates on your life insurance

The role family history plays in the life insurance underwriting process is very complicated and has many integral pieces that, without the knowledge of an expert, could affect a person’s final rates. JRC Insurance Group has helped thousands of clients secure the lowest rates for their life insurance policy by matching them with the most lenient company for their family history ailment(s).

JRC Insurance Group is an owner-operated independent life insurance agency that is dedicated to finding the very best coverage available for our clients and their loved ones. If you are looking for warm friendly service from true professionals call us today toll-free 855-247-9555 or you can request a free quote online here.

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Cliff Pendell

VP of Marketing at JRC Insurance Group
Cliff is a licensed life insurance agent and one of the owners of JRC Insurance Group. He has helped thousands of families of businesses with their life insurance needs since 2012 and specializes with applicants who are less than perfect health. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with family, traveling, and the great outdoors.
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