How much is your life worth?
Putting a number on your life can be a bit disconcerting, possibly even disappointing. The thought of mortality can be sobering and many people avoid the issue altogether. However, we are all going to die and it is common sense to address the topic of life insurance sooner rather than later.
By your mid-30s the chance of contracting a degenerative disease starts to rise sharply. Degenerative diseases include cancer, heart attack, diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, to name just a few. Any of these can cause debilitation or death, as can an accident.
How much should I insure for?
Deciding on a life insurance payout can be tricky. Some might consider themselves priceless but insurance companies prefer to deal in specifics and they do have limits.
Generally, the higher the lump-sum payout, the higher the premium — to a large extent insurance companies leave it to the individual and market forces to arrive at a figure.
A $1 million term insurance policy, for example, will normally cost a healthy person in their late thirties about $70 a month or $840 a year. Many insurers put an upper limit of about $2 million on an average life. If you wish to insure for more than this, you may have to take out separate policies with different companies depending on your circumstances.
When calculating the amount of life insurance you want, the first step is to calculate your cost of living — mortgages, bills, food, rent, debt, clothing, transport and so on. This will help you determine how much money you will need to survive if you are unable to work because of a life-threatening condition or how much money your family will need to survive in the event of your death.
One quick method to estimate life insurance is to calculate your gross annual income and times it by 20 years. An average gross weekly family income of $1324 translates to about $70,000 a year or $1.4 million over 20 years.
However, insurance is needs based and the amount you insure for should primarily reflect your stage in the life cycle.
A single personwith no dependants has no real need for life insurance.
Any policy taken out would only really need to cover existing debts eg personal loans and funeral expenses.
For those married with a mortgage, the stakes rise. If one partner dies, the capacity of the remaining partner to repay the mortgage is severely compromised. This is exacerbated by the fact the economies of scale on the cost of living available to couples are withdrawn. Any insurance would need to cover mortgage repayments, other debts and funeral costs, with something left over as a cushion to fund the grieving period.
Couples with children
Life insurance is critical for people with children. According to ABS statistics, 4400 parents die each year. While this is only a small percentage of the 2.7 million families in Australia, if you or your partner prove to be one of the 4400, that is little consolation.
A report by AMP and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling shows an average family is likely to spend about $448,000 in today’s dollars to raise two children from birth to age 20. Another report in The Bulletin in 2005 estimated that the cost of raising a child to age 18 for a typical higher income family was just over $500,000.
It would be safe to assume then that the parents of a two-child family would need to be insured for at least $1 million. This would cover mortgage repayments, education, food, clothing and other expenses over the life of the child. Inflation also needs to be incorporated into the calculations. Those with businesses also need to calculate business debts and assets.
These figures assume a speedy death. For those suffering loss of income arising from a health problem, medical costs also need to be factored into the equation.
Life insurers offer a number of packages to meet the life stages of different individuals and they usually offer a lump sum or pension in the event of death, total and permanent disablement, accident and trauma. Working from an average figure like this, you will need to determine how much you are prepared to insure yourself for. If a family can’t afford to insure both parents, the primary wage earner should be insured.
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