For women - planning our insurance needs

Once, the world was simple. If there were two opposites like either/or and day/night, it was easy to treat them as different and act accordingly. Then along came the idea of equality and some opposites were judged the same when it came to the treatment they deserved. At least, it's now politically incorrect to suggest men and women should be treated differently. So the law imposes rules to prevent discrimination on the ground of sex (or gender if that is also different). Except that, when it comes to insurance, there are some very good reasons for treating men and women differently. Although the law may have changed, there are some fixed biological and cultural roles that seem permanently attached to women. We may now vote, own property and pursue our own careers, but we give birth and are expected to raise a family with the possibility of becoming a carer for elderly parents. In juggling between all these conflicting demands on our time, it's easy to drop the ball of financial planning.

In a perfect world, we women would sit down calmly and set out a plan for our lives. This would list goals and some way to monitor progress so that, if we seem to be straying off track, we can steer back on course. There would be milestones: getting a job, saving for our own home, avoiding debt, planning a family. If our partner, children or parents come to depend on the income we bring into the household, we should think about insurance. How could we leave them without providing for them? If we are not a burden to them during our lives, we do not want to become a burden by leaving them. So we need enough coverage to clear the mortgage on the home, pay for the education of our children and buy in care for our parents. In this, it does not matter whether we are a single mother or one of a couple. Loss of our earning capacity affects everyone around us.

Then we come to the key difference. We live longer than men so the right life insurance policy is our way of saving for retirement. As we reach the end of our working lives, all the major debts should be paid off. Hopefully, we have made pension arrangements and can live simply. But there are always emergencies. In such cases, having a policy with a cash value or an investment element gives us a safety net. In the worst case, we can sell the policy for a lump sum. With the right policy, we can draw down cash or borrow against the anticipated benefits.

This need for long-term thinking means we should take extra care when getting life insurance quotes. We should cover the range of policy types. It may then be appropriate to talk to an independent agent or broker to get advice. The aim is to ensure we have the right level of coverage at an affordable premium during our lives with adequate protection for our retirement needs. Rising above the selfish needs, we can also think about the flexibility to provide cover for the family we leave behind. This may involve planning to increase the investment element as we grow older, or adding coverage to boost the benefits we leave behind at the end of a long life.

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