What is a Life Insurance Rider?

Your life insurance can be customized through add-ons called “policy riders.” These optional clauses expand what the life insurance policy will cover — so instead of simply paying a death benefit if the insured person passes away, the policy might also offer financial aid if they take on new debts, develop a serious illness, suffer an accident or disability, or experience other financial changes that could strain their family’s bank account.

Life Insurance Rider Fast Facts

  • Adding life insurance riders will increase the price of your policy, though usually not by a wide margin.
  • Riders have very specific terms and conditions about when they’ll kick in, which vary by company.
  • Some riders have eligibility requirements based on time of purchase, age, health, pre-existing conditions, and other factors.
  • Occasionally, riders can be found built-in rather than sold separately. Compare insurers and policies before buying to get the best deal on the coverage you need.

Why Do I Need to Know About Riders?

Riders can add a lot of value to your life insurance policy, swooping in with a financial safety net just when you or your family need it most. It’s worth learning about rider options to make sure you don’t miss out on essential coverage that your life insurance policy might offer.

Research your life insurance options before buying to make sure you’re adequately protected, but not paying for more coverage than you need.

That said, it’s equally important to establish where your coverage needs end. Having a basic understanding of the options available for life insurance, and how they might apply to you, helps ensure that you’re able to shop smart. That way, you won’t be oversold on a more robust and more expensive policy than you need.

What Are the Different Kinds of Life Insurance Riders?

Life insurance riders come in different shapes and sizes. Some add value to your policy while you’re alive, some add value to the death benefit, some extend coverage to family members, and so on. The right riders for you will depend on your unique circumstances. You can find a brief explanation of the most common riders below, or click on the headers for in-depth information about the benefits available.

Term life insurance riders

Rider Benefit
Return of premium rider Refunds premiums the policyholder has paid if they outlive their coverage term
Term conversion rider Lets you convert term insurance to permanent insurance without a second medical exam
Guaranteed insurability rider Lets you purchase additional term coverage during your policy without a second medical exam

Living or “accelerated” benefit riders

Rider Benefit
Disability income rider Pays the policyholder a monthly stipend if a disability means they can no longer work
Long term care (LTC) rider Makes part of the death benefit available during life to cover long term care costs
Critical illness rider Makes part of the death benefit available during life to cover costs associated with a variety of critical conditions
Accelerated death benefit (ADB) rider Makes part of the death benefit available during life to cover costs associated with a terminal illness

Riders that affect death benefit payments

Rider Affects
Family income benefit rider Pays out the death benefit as a monthly stipend, rather than a one-time lump sum payment
Cost of living rider Adjusts the policy’s death benefit periodically to make up for increased cost of living due to inflation
Accidental death or “double indemnity” rider Pays an additional death benefit if the policyholder dies an accidental death

Family life insurance riders

Rider Benefit
Child insurance rider Adds a second, smaller death benefit for the policyholder’s child during a select term
Spouse insurance rider Adds a second, smaller death benefit for the policyholder’s spouse during a select term

What Life Insurance Riders Do I Need?

The types of riders worth adding to your life insurance depend on your unique circumstances. Some people will be well served by a bare-bones, affordable term life insurance policy, while others might require a more robust and long-lasting whole life policy.

As you begin to look for life insurance coverage, here are a few guiding questions:

  • What are your family’s monthly living expenses? How much would they need to be supplemented if you were to pass away unexpectedly?
  • Are there a fair number of major financial events still ahead of you that might affect your coverage needs?
  • Are you a parent? Are you hoping to finance your children’s college education, and if so, how much would you need invested in college savings?
  • Do you have a family history of serious health complications, like cancer, high blood pressure, heart problems, etc.? What’s the likelihood that you could develop one of these conditions while you’re covered by your life insurance?
  • If you were no longer able to take care of yourself, would your savings cover expenses associated with long term care?
  • Is your occupation hazardous in any way that would significantly increase the chances of a disability or accidental death?

Speaking with an insurance agent can help you narrow down your options and choose just the right amount of coverage for your life insurance policy. It’s a good idea to think about your insurance needs before you have that conversation — that way, you can be sure you’re getting the most out of your policy.

What’s Next?

  • Riders go above and beyond your life insurance policy’s basic coverage. If you’re still a little fuzzy on how that basic coverage actually works, check out our FAQs on term life insurance and permanent life insurance.
  • If you’re ready to start shopping, the next step is comparing companies to find out who offers the coverage you need at the most competitive rate. You can learn more about top life insurance providers and begin checking quotes with our in-depth review of the best life insurance.