Joint life insurance for married couples

Since joint life insurance costs less than two individual policies, it can be an option to help protect and grow your legacy after you and your partner pass away.

A young family walking outside talking and laughing.

Married couple life insurance, or joint life insurance, is an insurance policy that covers two people instead of one. It’s best used for estate planning1 or covering spouses who don’t qualify for their own policies. The two types of joint life insurance are first-to-die and second-to-die, or survivorship life insurance.  

A first-to-die life insurance policy pays out the death benefit when the first of the two spouses passes away, but a survivorship life insurance policy pays out the death benefit only after both policyholders die.2

Life insurance for newlyweds 
Getting married is a major milestone in life, one that should prompt you to update your beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies, and to reexamine your life insurance coverage to make sure both of you are carrying the right amount. If your spouse becomes your beneficiary, a life insurance policy will protect your spouse from financial burdens like outstanding mortgage payments or the loss of your salary should you pass away prematurely. 

Most joint life insurance policies are long-term policies, such as whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, which can be structured to last your entire life and often accumulate cash value. However, some joint life insurance policies are term life insurance policies, which last for a set period. Learn and compare to determine which life insurance products are right for you.


How does joint life insurance for married couples work? 

  • Survivorship life insurance
    Also called second-to-die life insurance, this pays out when both spouses have died. It’s generally used by wealthy couples who want to make sure heirs, such as adult children, have money to pay estate or inheritance taxes.2 New York Life also offers a rider or optional feature on this policy that pays out upon the death of the first spouse. The surviving spouse can use the money to pay off a mortgage balance or other debts.


Benefits of joint life insurance  

A survivorship life insurance policy delays the payout of the death benefit. But it can be a useful estate planning tool or a coverage option for a spouse in poor health. The death benefit can provide financial support for lifelong dependent children or be used for charitable giving.  

Estate planning 
If you have a large estate and want to leave a tax-free legacy for your heirs, survivorship life insurance is a good option. The policy’s main purpose is maximizing your estate and distributing the death benefit free of federal income tax. 

By law, spouses can leave each other unlimited assets without incurring federal income taxes, but the same tax exemptions do not extend to other beneficiaries. A survivorship life policy allows beneficiaries who are not part of the couple, like children or nieces and nephews, to receive a death benefit and use the proceeds to pay estate taxes. 

Caring for permanent dependents 
If you have dependents who will be relying on you indefinitely, such as children with disabilities, a survivorship life insurance policy ensures that you’re leaving money behind so they can be taken care of for the rest of their lives. The policy can be used to fund a special needs trust for a dependent, so there will be income for the dependent’s support when both parents are no longer around. 

Charitable giving  
Survivorship life insurance policies are best purchased as permanent policies because they tend to serve permanent needs. And since a survivorship policy costs less than two individual permanent policies, it's an option to leave a larger nest egg for your heirs or for a favorite cause, allowing you to support a charity you care about long after your death. 

Business transition planning 
The death benefit from a survivorship life insurance policy can be used to buy out members of the family who are not interested in maintaining a stake in a family business.


Advantages of joint life insurance for married couples 

Since one survivorship universal life policy covers two people, it generally costs less than two separate policies. 

Covers you both 
If a married couple wants a life insurance policy but is unable to secure coverage for one of them (usually due to poor health or an underlying medical condition), a joint policy covers them both under a single policy. 

Builds cash value 
When you pay your premium, a portion covers the cost of life insurance and policy expenses, and the remainder is applied to the cash value. The growth in cash value is federal tax-deferred, and over time it can be accessed for a variety of personal needs3

You can customize your policy by purchasing riders, which can allow the actual coverage to fit your situation.

A couple wearing yellow raincoats walking in the rain.

Joint life insurance for married couples FAQs

Yes, our survivorship policies contain provisions on when and how policies can be split in the event of a divorce or a change in federal estate tax law.

Yes, joint life policies pay the life insurance benefit after both insureds have died, so the premiums for joint permanent life insurance are less expensive than purchasing two separate permanent life policies.

A joint life insurance policy, also called survivorship insurance, covers two insureds, and pays the life insurance benefit after the death of both insureds. Typically, the policy is purchased by parents who wish to leave the insurance policy’s death benefit to their children when both pass away, but it is used in key person business planning as well.

If you’re a married couple in good health interested in buying life insurance to replace your income in case one of you prematurely passes, there are several other life insurance products that you can choose from. But if you’re using life insurance as an estate planning tool and want to ensure that your heirs get a death benefit, a survivorship life policy can work to your benefit. Consult with a life insurance agent to determine whether a survivorship life insurance policy is the best option for your individual circumstances.


Want to learn more about life insurance for married couples?

A New York Life financial professional can help determine what’s right for you.

1Neither New York Life nor its Agents provide tax or legal advice. Contact your tax or legal advisor to find out if the principles in this article apply to your personal circumstances.  

2Nupur Gambhir and Rebecca Shoenthal, “Survivorship Life Insurance,” Policygenius, January 15, 2021. 

3Accessing the cash value of the policy will reduce the available cash surrender value and the death benefit 

In most jurisdictions, the New York Life Custom Survivorship Whole Life policy form number is ICC18219-100P. State variations may apply.