What Questions to Ask a Life Insurance Agent

Author:Shelden SmollanChief Experience Officer
Shawn Redford
Reviewed by:Shawn RedfordChief Business Development Officer
December 1, 2023
14 Minute Read

Your guide to understanding life insurance. Learn what questions to ask your agent to safeguard your family's financial future.

A couple discussing what questions to ask their insurance agent

The Importance of Life Insurance

Life insurance is not about death, but about life. It is about your life and the lives of the people you love. It’s one of those things that we may not want to think about, but it’s crucial to our financial well-being.

At its core, life insurance is a contract between you and a life insurance company. You pay a certain amount of money (life insurance premium) regularly, and in return, the life insurance company agrees to pay a lump sum to your loved ones (beneficiaries) when you pass away. This money can help your family members pay for your final expenses, burial costs, outstanding debts, or even maintain their current lifestyle without your income.

So, no matter where you are in life – whether you’re single, married, a parent, or a retiree – it’s worth considering life insurance benefits. It’s not just about protecting your family’s future – it’s also about giving you peace of mind. And that’s something we could all use a little more of.

An elderly couple sitting in a park at sunset

Understanding Your Life Insurance Needs 

We will be addressing some key questions to help you understand your life insurance needs, figure out which type of life policy is best for you, how much life insurance will cost, what life insurance company is the best for you, and determine how much coverage you need to ensure your family’s financial security. 

First things first, let’s talk about why you might need life insurance. Life insurance isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Your personal circumstances, such as your age, health, lifestyle, dangerous activities, financial responsibilities, and future plans, all play a part in determining your life insurance needs. It’s all about assessing what would happen to your loved ones financially if you were no longer there to provide for them. Would they be able to manage the mortgage payments, educational expenses, or even daily living costs? These are the questions you need to ask a licensed life insurance agent to understand your insurance needs.

What type of life insurance policy is suitable for my circumstances? 

There are two main types of life insurance products: term life and permanent life policy.

Term life insurance provides coverage for a specific period (like 10, 20, or 30 years). It’s straightforward and generally more affordable, making it a good fit for people who need coverage for a certain timeframe – say, until your kids finish college. 

On the opposing hand, a permanent life insurance plan covers you for your whole life, as the name suggests. It also has a part that can grow in cash value over time. This kind of insurance is good if you have long-term financial responsibilities or if you want to leave a gift to charity or an estate.

How much life insurance coverage do I need to adequately protect my family?

Determining how much insurance coverage you need isn’t as complicated as it sounds. A common rule of thumb is to aim for coverage that’s 5 to 10 times your annual income. But everyone’s situation is different. You’ll want to consider your family’s current lifestyle and future needs. Think about your debts (like a mortgage or car loan), ongoing expenses (like groceries, utilities, and education costs), and future obligations (like your spouse’s retirement or your kids’ college tuition). 

And there you have it! Remember, life insurance isn’t just about the here and now. It’s about planning for the future and ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of, no matter what life throws their way. So take some time, do your research, and make the choice that’s best for you and your family. 

Life Insurance Policies Specifics

Each life insurance plan comes with its own set of specifics. This includes the coverage amount (how much your beneficiaries will receive when you pass away), the term length (if you opt for term insurance), the premium amount (how much you’ll pay for the policy), and any additional benefits or riders that come along. Knowing these specifics is crucial, as it helps you understand what you’re buying and ensures you get a policy that fits your needs.

Premiums and Payment Options 

Life insurance premiums are the payments you make in exchange for your coverage. How much you pay for your premiums depends on several factors, like your age, health, lifestyle habits, and the amount of coverage you want. Generally, the healthier and younger you are, the lower your premiums.

How much will the insurance premiums cost me?

The cost of insurance premiums can vary widely based on your personal circumstances and the type of policy you choose. For instance, term life insurance typically has lower premiums than permanent policy. But remember, buying life insurance cheaper isn’t always better. It’s important to choose a policy that offers the coverage you need, even if the life insurance cost will be little more.

Are there flexible payment options available?

Yes, most insurance companies offer flexible payment options to make managing your policy easier. You can typically choose to pay your premiums monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or annually. Some insurers may also offer a discount on purchasing life insurance if you pay your premiums in a lump sum or set up automatic payments.

Life insurance plan is a significant financial decision. Make sure you understand the policy specifics and cost implications before making a commitment. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or seek advice from a life insurance agent if you’re unsure. After all, it’s your future, and you deserve to make an informed choice.

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A young couple meeting with an insurance agent

Beneficiary Designation 

Let’s talk about a crucial aspect of life insurance that often gets overlooked – beneficiary designation. This is the person (or people) who will receive your life insurance payout if something happens to you. Let’s explore how you can designate beneficiaries and what happens if a beneficiary predeceases you.

How do I designate beneficiaries, and can I change them?

When you apply for life insurance, one of the key decisions you will make is choosing your beneficiary. This could be your spouse, children, a trust, or even a charity. You just need to provide their details (like their name, relationship to you, and contact information) in the designated section of your policy application.

What if your circumstances change? No problem. Most insurance policies allow you to change your beneficiaries at any time. Just get in touch with your insurance provider, fill out a change of beneficiary form, and voila – your new choice is documented.

What happens if my beneficiary predeceases me?

It is a grim thought, but it is necessary to plan for. If your primary beneficiary predeceases you and you haven’t named a contingent (or secondary) beneficiary, the life insurance payment from your life insurance options will likely go to your estate. This could potentially lead to a lengthy probate process and might even increase estate taxes.

To avoid this, it is a good idea to name a contingent beneficiary who will receive the death insurance benefit amount if the primary beneficiary cannot. You can even name several beneficiaries and specify the percentage of the insurance benefit each one should receive.

Remember, your life insurance plan is a powerful tool to protect your loved ones financially. Keep your beneficiary designations up to date and make sure they align with your current wishes and circumstances. It’s a small step that can make a big difference.

Policy Riders and Additional Coverage

Policy riders and additional coverage, picture them as the extra toppings on your pizza, adding a special touch to your basic life policy, providing you with customized protection to suit your individual needs.

Are there any riders or additional coverage options available?

Yes, indeed! Most life insurance policies come with a variety of optional riders that can complement your primary policy. Riders are essentially mini-insurance policies that focus on specific needs not covered under the main policy.

For instance, some common riders include accelerated death benefits (which allow early access to part of your insurance benefit if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness), accidental death (which provides an extra payout if your death is due to an accident), or waiver of premium (which excuses your premium payments if you become completely disabled and unable to work).

How do these riders enhance my policy?

Riders enrich your life insurance policy by adding flexibility and customization. They empower you to modify your coverage to perfectly fit your unique needs and situations. Here’s how they can boost your policy:

1. Enhanced Protection: Riders can offer additional financial safety in scenarios not covered by your basic policy. For example, a critical illness rider delivers a one-time payout if you are diagnosed with a severe illness specified in the rider.

2. Financial Support: Certain riders, like the waiver of premium rider, can provide financial support by exempting your premium payments during challenging times, such as if you become disabled and can’t earn a living.

3. Increased Peace of Mind: Above all, riders can provide you with added peace of mind, knowing you have additional safeguards against the unpredictable turns of life.

Riders are like power-ups for your life insurance coverage, offering additional protection tailored to your needs. However, it’s important to note that not all riders may be necessary or suitable for your situation. Therefore, take the time to understand each rider and consider seeking advice from a financial advisor to make the best decision for you and your loved ones.

Cash Value and Surrender Options 

These are important elements of certain types of life insurance plans that can provide financial flexibility throughout your lifetime.

A woman sitting at a desk with a laptop and a calculator

Cash Value

Most fixed life insurance plans, like whole life or universal life insurance, have a cash value option. It’s a part of your insurance payment that goes into a different account. This cash value builds up over time without being taxed, so it can grow into a large amount.

The cash value component of your policy serves multiple purposes. You can borrow against it, use it to pay your premiums, or even withdraw from it if you need cash. However, these actions may decrease the life insurance benefit or increase the chances that the policy will lapse.

Surrender Options

The surrender option is another feature of permanent life insurance policies. If you decide to surrender the policy, which means giving it up entirely, you can receive the accumulated cash value. However, surrendering a policy in the early years might incur surrender charges. Also, the surrendered cash value could be taxable. 

Moreover, surrendering a policy means you’re giving up the death benefit. This decision should be considered carefully, taking into account your current financial situation, future income needs, and overall financial plan. 

In summary, cash value and surrender options can provide financial flexibility during your lifetime. However, they should be managed carefully to ensure they align with your long-term financial goals and estate planning needs. Always consult with a financial advisor before making decisions about these aspects of your life insurance policy.

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Underwriting and Medical Examinations

We’re going to talk in depth about two important parts of getting life insurance: underwriting and medical examinations. These are key steps that help insurance companies assess risk and determine your policy premiums.


Underwriting is a term you’ll frequently hear when applying for life insurance. It’s the process insurers use to evaluate the risk of insuring you and determine the premium you’ll pay for your policy.

During underwriting, insurance companies consider various factors like age, gender, health history, lifestyle habits (like smoking or drinking), occupation, and family medical history. They use these details to categorize you into a risk class, which ultimately determines the cost of your policy.

For instance, individuals who are younger, healthier, and lead a safe lifestyle typically qualify for lower premiums because they pose less risk to the insurer. On the other hand, those with chronic health conditions or risky habits may be charged higher premiums or even denied coverage.

Medical Examinations

Medical examinations are a common part of the underwriting process, especially for traditional life insurance plans. The exam typically involves a physical exam, blood tests, and urine tests. The aim is to assess your current health status and identify any potential risks.

The results of the medical exam can significantly impact your insurance premiums. For example, if the test reveals high cholesterol or blood pressure, you might end up paying more for your policy. On the flip side, a clean bill of health can lead to lower premiums.

However, not all insurance policies require a medical exam. Some insurers offer “no-exam” policies, but these usually come with higher premiums due to the increased risk for the insurer.

In conclusion, underwriting and medical examinations are crucial steps in obtaining a life insurance policy. They help insurance companies assess risk accurately and determine fair premiums. As a policyholder, understanding these processes can help you make informed decisions and find the best coverage for your needs. Always consult with a life insurance agent if you have any questions or concerns about these aspects of your life insurance application.

Policy Lapse and Renewal

These are essential terms to understand as they can greatly influence your coverage and protection.

Policy Lapse

When the subscriber doesn’t pay the payment during the waiting time, the insurance ends. Most of the time, the delay period is 30 days after the date the payment is due. When a contract expires, the insurance company is no longer required to pay the insurance payout. In short, your policy is no longer valid.

A lapsed policy can sometimes be reinstated if the policyholder pays the overdue premiums along with interest, and possibly undergoes a new medical examination. However, it’s best to avoid a policy lapse because reinstatement is not always guaranteed and it could potentially lead to higher premiums.

Life Insurance Policy Renewal

Policy renewal refers to the process of extending your life insurance coverage beyond its initial term. This is particularly relevant for term life insurance policies, which only provide coverage for a specific period (like 10, 20, or 30 years). 

When your term policy comes to an end, you may have the option to renew your policy for another term. However, keep in mind that your premiums will likely increase upon renewal, reflecting your older age and any changes in health status. 

Avoiding policy lapses and understanding the renewal process are key to maintaining uninterrupted life insurance coverage. It’s crucial to stay on top of premium payments and to review your policy terms and conditions regularly. If you have any questions about policy lapses or renewals, don’t hesitate to consult with your life insurance agent or broker. 

Policy Exclusions and Inclusions

Understanding these terms is crucial as they define what your policy will and won’t cover.

Policy Inclusions

Inclusions are the events or circumstances under which the insurance company agrees to pay the policy benefits. For a life insurance policy, the primary inclusion is the death of the policyholder. If the insured person passes away during the term of the policy, the insurer will pay out the insurance benefit to the beneficiaries.

Some policies may also include additional benefits, often referred to as riders, which can provide coverage for things like critical illness, disability, or accidental death. These riders broaden the scope of the policy but usually come at an extra cost.

Policy Exclusions

Exclusions, on the other hand, represent situations where the insurance company won’t pay the policy benefits. Common exclusions in life insurance plans include death due to suicide within the first two years of the policy, death resulting from acts of war or terrorism, and death due to participation in high-risk activities such as skydiving or motor racing.

Some policies might also exclude deaths related to pre-existing medical conditions if they were not disclosed at the time of application. Therefore, it’s crucial to be honest and thorough when filling out your insurance application.

In conclusion, policy inclusions and exclusions fundamentally shape your life insurance coverage. It’s important to read through these details carefully when purchasing a policy to ensure you have the protection you need.

Claims Process and Payout

Claims Process

The claims process begins when a policyholder passes away. The beneficiaries must inform the insurance company about the death and submit a formal claim. This typically involves completing a claim form and providing a certified copy of the death certificate.

The insurer will then review the claim, which may include verifying the cause of death and ensuring it aligns with the policy’s terms and conditions. If everything checks out, the claim is approved. However, if there are discrepancies or if the cause of death falls under a policy exclusion, the claim might be denied.

It’s worth noting that honesty is crucial when applying for life insurance. Any misrepresentation or concealment of information can lead to complications during the claims process, possibly resulting in a denied claim.


Once a claim is approved, the insurance company issues a payout to the beneficiaries. This payout, known as the death benefit, is usually tax-free and can be received in several ways.

The most common method is a lump-sum payment, where the full death benefit is paid out at once. Some insurers also offer installment options, allowing beneficiaries to receive the death insurance benefit over a set period.

In some cases, the death benefit can also be left with the insurance company to earn interest. The beneficiaries can then withdraw the funds as needed, subject to the terms of the policy.

In conclusion, understanding the claims process and payout options is key to fully benefiting from a life insurance policy. It helps ensure a smooth transition during a difficult time and allows policyholders to plan effectively for their beneficiaries’ futures. If you have any life insurance questions or concerns about these aspects of your life insurance, be sure to consult with your life insurance agent or advisor.

Two people at a table going over some paperwork

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions When You Meet the Life Insurance Agent

What are good questions to ask insurance companies?

What types of policies do you offer, and what do they cover?
How are premiums determined, and can they change over time?
Are there any discounts available?
What is the claim process like?
How long have you been in business, and what is your financial strength rating?

What not to say when applying for life insurance?

It’s important to avoid providing false information or lying about medical history, lifestyle habits (like smoking, drinking or other factors), occupation, annual salary, and existing insurance policies.
Don’t understate your age or health conditions.
Avoid making negative statements about your health to the insurance agent.

What three questions should you ask yourself before buying life insurance?

How much life insurance coverage do I need to secure my family’s future?
What type of policy (term, whole, universal) best suits my needs and financial situation?
How reputable is the insurance company and how easy is their claims process?

What issues should you consider in choosing an insurance agent?

Their knowledge and experience in the industry.
Their understanding of your specific needs.
The range of products they offer.
Their responsiveness and communication skills.
Their reputation and reviews from other customers.

What 3 life insurance questions should one ask when deciding on life insurance?

What is the right amount of coverage for my family’s needs?
Which type of life insurance policy is most appropriate for me – term, whole life, or universal?
How financially stable is the insurance company I’m considering?

What are insurance policy questions?

What is the term of the policy?
What does the permanent policy cover and exclude?
How much is the annual premium and how often do I need to pay it?
What are the conditions for the policy’s payout?
Can the policy be renewed or converted into another type?

Shelden Smollan
Shelden Smollan, Experior Financial Group's Chief Experience Officer, has spent more than 45 years working in the fields of Life Insurance and finance. He is an excellent insurance sales and management executive with exceptional strategic thinking, marketing, and leadership abilities. He has been Experior Financial Group Inc.'s Chief Experience Officer for the past six years, and his vision and expertise have been instrumental in the company's growth and development. By arranging meetings between agents and carriers so that our team of associates can learn from them and draw inspiration from them, he has assisted our IMO in expanding.