I read life insurance articles all the time. One article that I read said replacements are typically a bad idea. As an agent, I know there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons for replacing a life insurance policy, but I would never make a blanket statement that replacements are generally good or bad. That would be irresponsible. Let’s start off discussing legitimate reasons for replacing a policy.
When it comes to simplified issue whole life, underwriters don’t care about certain medical events such as heart attacks if the event occurred long enough in the past. In fact, someone can have a dozen heart attacks and it wouldn’t matter as long as he or she passes the time threshold (agents call this the lookback period). I’ll explain why the lookback period matters when considering a replacement. Let’s assume someone was scared into buying a life insurance policy because he or she had a heart attack less than a year ago. That person would be limited to modified whole life. Modified whole life (sometimes referred to as graded whole life) has a two or three year waiting period for full coverage. During this waiting period, the full death benefit is only paid out for an accidental death. Let’s assume a year passes and the same person can now qualify for ordinary whole life (no waiting period). Replacing a modified whole life policy with ordinary whole life is appropriate in this situation.
That last example was an obvious one. A less obvious choice occurs when the same type of policy with the same amount of coverage is considered for replacement because of price. Many agents will point out that a replacement starts a new contestability period. A contestability period is a two year period from the start of a policy in which the insurance company can investigate a death claim. The consumer risk associated with a contestability period is sometimes overstated. As long as the insured was honest on the application, there is nothing to worry about except for a slight delay in benefit payments as the insurance company investigates the claim.
If there is only a slight price difference between the old policy and new policy, a replacement might not be worth it. The small price difference won’t justify losing the time spent satisfying the contestability period. Also, a replacement means you’ll be cancelling the old policy, and there is a time investment with that process (granted its not a huge investment of time). Be wary of agents pushing for a replacement when both policies are of the same type and similar price. Agents typically receive more commission by doing replacements instead of extra policies.
Are you protected from bad replacements? Yes, the insurance industry has put some safeguards in place. One safeguard is a free-look period in which a replacement can be rescinded and a full refund issued on the new policy that was purchased. The agent is also required to give you literature that helps you be more informed about replacements. Below is a sample replacement form that is used for all replacements in the state of Texas.