Will my family medical history affect my life insurance?

Published  22 March 2021
   6 min read

When you apply for a life insurance policy, an insurance company will usually want to do a detailed fact-find to see how much of a risk you might be to cover. Here’s a short guide to how your family medical history could affect your life insurance.

Before offering you a quotation, a life insurer will usually ask you to complete a questionnaire about your health and lifestyle.

The questionnaire might ask you about your:

  • age
  • height and weight
  • whether you smoke or drink and how much
  • if you’ve suffered any serious health conditions, past or present, or had major surgery.

It may also ask about your mental health, such as a history of stress, depression or anxiety, and any treatment you have had for this.

Your insurer will also want to know about any history of illness in your family that could be hereditary, such as:

  • certain types of cancer
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • neurological conditions, including motor neurone disease or Parkinson’s disease.


Disclosures that can push up the cost of your life insurance

Unfortunately, having a family history of some health conditions can push up the cost of your life insurance premiums, and may even preclude you from getting cover by some insurers.

That’s because medical underwriters (the people who assess the risk to the insurer of covering you, and determine the terms and price of your policy) know that this is a really important factor in estimating your life expectancy, and how likely you are to make a claim within the period of your cover (if you have level term insurance).

They might consider how many members of your family have suffered from a certain condition, and how early in life they were diagnosed. If a diagnosis came after the age of 60-65, this might be less of a concern for insurers. Usually they will only be interested in your closest relatives, meaning your biological parents and siblings.


Finding the best type of life insurance for you

Individual insurers will have their own lists of what they consider pre-existing conditions, and which hereditary illnesses they are most concerned about. Some will cover things others won’t, so it’s very much decided on a case-by-case basis. To give the best chance of finding the right life insurance for you at the right price, consider using a broker or intermediary who can search the whole of market on your behalf.

If you have a rare hereditary condition in your family, an insurer might ask your consent to contact your GP or other healthcare professionals who have treated you, to find out more information before they decide whether to offer you cover or not.

They will usually employ their own medical doctors to advise on difficult or unusual cases.

You might also be asked to consent to a medical examination by an insurer’s own expert.


Don’t invalidate your policy

Being totally honest and open about your personal and family medical history is important.

You might be tempted to downplay it, or even leave out some details altogether, but please don’t do this.

It can be quite easy for an insurer to check and if you are found to have lied, even by omission, this will invalidate your insurance and it won’t pay out.

This could cause extra heartache for your family if they have to fight a claim that’s been denied after you pass away.

Remember also that a life insurance company can request your medical records if you have previously given them permission. They could also do so after your death before they make a decision on whether to pay out on your policy.   

Read Five life events that change your financial picture.


How to be more attractive to insurers

If you do have a complicated family medical history and are worried you’ll struggle to get life cover, remember that, while you can’t change the past, you can demonstrate that you are doing everything you can to safeguard your health today.

Taking any preventative treatments suggested by your doctor and building healthy habits like:

  • regular exercise
  • stopping smoking
  • avoiding alcohol and drinking
  • avoiding hazardous activities, or
  • contact or extreme sports…

…..could all help to bring down the cost of life insurance.

There are specialist types of life insurance you can get which cover you even if you have pre-existing conditions, and many of these won’t ask you to undergo a medical, but these may be more expensive policies. Many over-50s life cover policies, for example, may cover you even if you have certain conditions in your family or in your own medical history.


Hannah Smith is a freelance financial journalist with a background in the trade press. She writes about personal finance, asset management and business for titles including Money Observer, Shares, FE Trustnet and MoneyWeek.

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