Insurance vs. assurance

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The specific uses of the term "insurance" and "assurance" are sometimes confused. In general, the term insurance refers to providing cover for an event that might happen while assurance is the provision of cover for an event that is certain to happen.

When a person insures the contents of their home they do so because of events that might happen (fire, theft, flood, etc.) They hope their home will never be burgled, or burn down but they want to ensure that they are financially protected if the worst happens. This example of Insurance shows how it is a way of spending a little money to protect against the risk of having to spend a lot of money.

When a person insures their life they do so knowing that one day they will die. Therefore a policy that covers death is assured to make a payment. The policy offers assurance on death; even if the policy has a prescribed termination date the policy is still assured to pay on death and therefore is an assurance policy. Examples include Term Assurance and Whole Life Assurance. An accidental death policy is not assured to pay on death as the life insured may not die through an accident, therefore it is an insurance policy.

A policy might also be assured for other reasons. For example an endowment policy is designed to provide a lump sum on maturity. Under certain types of policy the lump sum is guaranteed. Therefore, this may also be called an assurance policy.

The test of whether a policy is assurance or insurance is that with an assurance policy the insured event will definitely occur (at some point) whereas with an insurance policy there is a risk the insured event might occur.

With regard to Whole Life policies, the question is not whether the insured event (in this case death) will occur, but simply when. If the policy has nonforfeiture values (or cash values) then the policy is assured to pay.

During recent years, the distinction between the two terms has become largely blurred. This is principally due to many companies offering both types of policy, and rather than refer to themselves using both insurance and assurance titles, they instead use just one.

Accidental death

Accidental death is a limited life insurance that is designed to cover the insured when they pass away due to an accident. Accidents include anything from an injury, but do not typically cover any deaths resulting from health problems or suicide. Because they only cover accidents, these policies are much less expensive than other life insurances.

It is also very commonly offered as "accidental death and dismemberment insurance", also known as an AD&D policy. In an AD&D policy, benefits are available not only for accidental death, but also for loss of limbs or bodily functions such as sight and hearing, etc.

Accidental death and AD&D policies very rarely pay a benefit; either the cause of death is not covered, or the coverage is not maintained after the accident until death occurs. To be aware of what coverage they have, an insured should always review their policy for what it covers and what it excludes. Often, it does not cover an insured who puts themselves at risk in activities such as: parachuting, flying an airplane, professional sports, or involvement in a war (military or not).

Accidental death benefits can also be added to a standard life insurance policy as a rider. If this rider is purchased, the policy will generally pay double the face amount if the insured dies due to an accident. This used to be commonly referred to as a double indemnity coverage.

Senior and preneed products

Insurance companies have in recent years developed products to offer to niche markets, most notably targeting the senior market to address needs of an aging population. Many companies offer policies tailored to the needs of senior applicants. These are often low to moderate face value whole life insurance policies, to allow a senior citizen purchasing insurance at an older issue age an opportunity to buy affordable insurance. This may also be marketed as final expense insurance, and an agent or company may suggest (but not require) that the policy proceeds could be used for end-of-life expenses.

Preneed (or prepaid) insurance policies are whole life policies that, although available at any age, are usually offered to older applicants as well. This type of insurance is designed specifically to cover funeral expenses when the insured person dies. In many cases, the applicant signs a prefunded funeral arrangement with a funeral home at the time the policy is applied for. The death proceeds are then guaranteed to be directed first to the funeral services provider for payment of services rendered. Most contracts dictate that any excess proceeds will go either to the insured's estate or a designated beneficiary.

These products are sometimes assigned into a trust at the time of issue, or shortly after issue. The policies are irrevocably assigned to the trust, and the trust becomes the owner. Since a whole life policy has a cash value component, and a loan provision, it may be considered an asset; assigning the policy to a trust means that it can no longer be considered an asset for that individual. This can impact an individual's ability to qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.