What Happens If You Outlive Your Term Life Insurance Policy?

You may be able to extend your current policy or buy a new one

Unlike permanent life insurance, term life insurance stays in effect for only a certain period of time—such as 10, 20, or 30 years.

If you die during that period, your beneficiary will receive a payout; if you die after the policy has expired, there will be no payout.

So what should you do if your term expires and you still need life insurance?

Key Takeaways

  • If your term insurance policy is expiring and you still have dependents relying on your income, you may need new insurance.
  • You might have the option to continue your current policy on an annual basis, but that could be expensive.
  • Some term life insurance policies can be converted into permanent life insurance.
  • If you’re in reasonably good health, you may be able to find an affordable policy.
  • Some insurance companies write policies for applicants up to age 90.

Understanding Term Life Insurance

The principal purpose of life insurance is to provide financial support for your dependents should you die prematurely. For example, someone might buy a 30-year term policy at age 40, figuring that by the time they reach 70, their kids will be grown up, out of the house, and self-supporting.

The advantage of term insurance over whole life and other forms of permanent insurance is that it’s cheaper, so the same amount of money can get the policyholder a larger death benefit. The disadvantage is that it eventually expires, at which point the policyholder, now older, may find it difficult to buy another policy.

For many, this is not a problem. However, suppose that our hypothetical 40-year-old with a 30-year term policy is approaching age 70 and still has dependents. Perhaps one of their children has had unforeseen physical or psychological problems and can’t be self-supporting. Or perhaps the policyholder is now responsible for supporting a grandchild.

In such cases, the policyholder might want to try to keep some life insurance. So what exactly are the options?

What to Do If Your Policy Is Expiring

You will have the most options if your policy is still in force and hasn’t reached the end of its term. Ideally, it’s best to make plans at least a year before that point. Here are some steps to consider.

The COVID-19 pandemic reportedly caused many insurers to reevaluate their life insurance products for older people, who are more vulnerable to dying from the disease. Until the pandemic ends, you may have fewer options or encounter higher prices than you would otherwise.

Extend Your Coverage

Many term policies have a guaranteed renewability provision that allows you to keep your insurance in effect after the end of the original term as long as you continue to pay the premiums. While your premiums are likely to rise each year—perhaps considerably— based on your current age, you typically won’t have to submit to a new physical exam.

Some policies allow you to renew on this basis up to age 95.

Convert to a Permanent Policy

Your term policy may also include a provision for converting to a whole life or universal life policy, again without a physical exam. The new insurance policy could continue for the rest of your life or as long as you need it.

The premium on the new policy will be higher than you have been paying for term insurance. Still, you may have the option of converting to a policy with a smaller death benefit in return for a lower premium if that works for you.

Policies differ in terms of when you can make this switch (there may be age limits). You’ll need to check your policy or contact your insurance company or agent to find out.

Shop Around for a New Policy

If you’re reaching the end of your current term policy, don’t automatically assume that you can’t get a new one because of your age. Some insurers write policies for people up to the age of 80.

You will typically need to have a medical exam, especially if the policy is for over a certain amount, such as $50,000. Some lower-value policies don’t require a physical.

Financial advisors will often recommend you research the available policies for older consumers to find the best term life policy.

Combine Several Smaller Policies

If you have health issues that make it difficult for you to buy a sufficiently large term insurance policy, you may be able to cobble together a portfolio of smaller policies that will add to what you need.

These policies may not require a physical exam, but they may ask for some health information.

In addition to buying one or more small policies through an insurance agent or directly from insurance companies, you could be eligible for group life insurance through your employer, if you’re still working, or through a trade association, college alumni club, or other organization to which you belong.

Buy a Burial Policy

Still another option is final expense or burial insurance. These are typically whole life policies with relatively small payouts, such as $20,000 or $25,000.

They may require no medical exam and—despite their grim name—will provide money that your beneficiaries can use for any purpose.

Do You Get Your Money Back At the End of a Term Life Insurance?

No. You purchased coverage for a period of time, and you got coverage for that time, whether or not it was used. When term life insurance ends, you do not get your money back.

What Happens When a Term Life Insurance Policy Matures?

When a term life insurance policy matures, your life insurance coverage on the policy ends. Some companies will allow you to extend your coverage or purchase permanent life insurance to replace it.

Can You Extend Term Life Insurance?

Some life insurance carriers allow you to extend your term life insurance.

You may end up having to pay more in premiums, because of your age, or take a new health exam.

What Happens After 20-Year Term Life Insurance?

If you take out a 20-year term life insurance policy and you die within the 20 years, your beneficiaries will receive your death benefit. If you do not die during the time period of the policy, it will expire after 20 years.

What Happens to the Money After Term Life Insurance Expires?

The premiums you pay for your death benefit remain with the company after your term life insurance expires.

The Bottom Line

If you have a term life insurance policy that is due to expire in the near future, the first question is whether you still need insurance. If your former dependents no longer rely on your income, you may no longer need it.

However, if you do need insurance, there are several ways to obtain it. If your health is iffy, your best bet may be to try to extend your current term life policy or convert to a permanent policy with that insurer. If you’re in good health, it may pay to shop around for a new term life policy, which could prove more affordable.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Insurance Information Institute. "What are the different types of term life insurance policies?"

  2. AARP. "Some Life Insurers Won’t Issue New Policies to Older Adults During Pandemic."

  3. Guardian. "Your term life policy is expiring. Here are your options."

  4. Globe Live. "Senior Life Insurance."

  5. Tufts University. "Life to 95."

  6. John Hancock. "Final Expense life insurance with Guaranteed Acceptance."