Decisions as you get older

As you get older, the mortgage is paid off and the kids have grown up and left the nest, there's a temptation to switch off. You feel you have done all the heavy lifting. The pension will be coming soon when you retire... What's wrong with this picture? Well, the majority of people were trading in property and, when the bubble burst, they are looking at negative housing equity and the threat of foreclosure. Even those who stayed in their own homes over the years, often borrowed heavily against them. With the recession, all those investments in the retirement fund have lost their shine. Unemployment is a more real threat to middle and upper class families. Children seem to be staying in the family home for longer. And all this at a time when life expectancy is increasing. Ten years ago, people might have dropped their term life insurance policies and found themselves with more disposable income. Now the decision is more difficult.

With the credit crunch, the pressure is on to keep paying the mortgage, reduce the outstanding household debts and put food on the table. Those of you with permanent or cash-value life insurance policies have a slightly easier path to follow. Premiums will be fixed but, if you stop paying, the policies may remain valid. The decisions are to:

  • keep paying, which builds up the investment value and protects the family by maintaining the death benefit;
  • stop paying and leave the cash value untouched;
  • withdraw or borrow some of the cash value; or
  • cancel the policy which usually involves a big tax bill.

If a term life insurance policy is falling due for renewal, here's how the choice looks: if you renew, the premiums will be higher because, suddenly, you're older; but, if you let the policy expire, your family could be hit hard if you die unexpectedly. Many of you may have bought term life cover when you were younger. Perhaps you thought you would convert to permanent policies or simply drop the cover when your children had grown up. Now that retirement funds are shrinking, it's time to take another look at term insurance.

Allowing for inflation, the premiums have actually been falling over the last ten years as life expectancy has been improving. Go back fifty years and only a small percentage of people lived beyond seventy. Now, many people live into their eighties and beyond. This has prompted competition among life insurance companies to attract business from older people. As long as you are physically fit, you are likely to find the rates little changed from the ten, fifteen or twenty year term policy that is due to expire. Naturally, there will be a health exam to ensure you will live a reasonable number of years before a claim arises, but the option to continue a term policy or to convert to a permanent policy are better than you might imagine. This is a good time to start talking to the life insurance companies to see what your options are.

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