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Life Insurance Riders: Everything You Need To Know

Updated: Sep 22, 2023
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A life insurance rider is an additional benefit you can add to your standard life insurance policy for enhanced protection. You can tailor your insurance policy and add riders based on your specific needs and your insurer's products.

Although you pay an additional fee for riders, most insurance companies require little or no underwriting for these add-ons. A rider attached to a life insurance policy acts as a supplement that helps you fulfill your unique insurance needs.

For example, if you added a long-term care rider to your existing insurance policy, you could qualify for monthly payments if you need to stay in a nursing facility or get home care services.

In addition to providing enhanced protection, insurance riders provide increased savings by eliminating the need to purchase separate insurance products. They also allow you to buy different coverage as your needs change.

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Key Takeaways

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Riders can help you customize your life insurance coverage to meet your specific needs at an additional expense.

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Before buying a rider, it’s a good idea to compare the rider’s price and benefits to decide if it is advantageous for you.

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There’s a chance you’ll be unable to add a rider after your life insurance policy has been initiated. It’s a good idea to find out what riders are offered when you first sign up for insurance.

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What Is a Life Insurance Rider?

A rider, generally speaking, is an addition or modification to a document or contract. A life insurance rider modifies your insurance contract by increasing its coverage and benefits in a specific way. You can purchase riders when you sign up for insurance or, in some cases, at a later date.

Riders can improve your insurance protection and the financial support accessible to your family. They can be especially useful in situations not traditionally covered by life insurance, like becoming disabled.

Some riders offer benefits throughout your life by allowing you to access funds from your policy's death benefit.

How Life Insurance Riders Work

Life insurance riders are available in various forms, each with a distinct advantage. Riders benefit you by supplementing and filling in your life insurance policy’s gaps.

How Riders Work

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Problem: Your life insurance plan has insufficient coverage.

If your insurance policy isn't sufficient to meet your anticipated costs, you'll need to purchase additional coverage or look into available riders.

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Solution: Add a rider.

In this scenario, look for riders that can provide extra coverage or benefits to fill in your unique coverage gaps.

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End Result: Complete coverage that meets your needs.

Riders can help you cover a variety of gaps in your coverage.

Riders are optional, and you may only want to add them if your life insurance coverage is insufficient to meet your needs.

A 30-year-old male who buys permanent life insurance with a $100,000 coverage amount may realize that his policy has insufficient coverage for his current financial obligations, or he may be concerned that his needs will increase in the future.

To ensure enhanced protection, he might add a guaranteed insurability rider. This would allow him to increase the amount of his life insurance policy later without having to undergo another medical exam. He wouldn't have to worry about future health issues preventing him from purchasing additional coverage.

For instance, at age 50, he could increase his coverage to $1,000,000 to ensure his dependents are financially protected if he dies.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all rider that meets everyone's needs. You can decide if you need a rider by evaluating the options and whether the additional protection outweighs your costs.

Common Types of Life Insurance Riders

Insurance companies offer various riders. Some of the commonly available ones are:


Waiver of Premium

This rider waives premiums if you become permanently disabled or lose income due to an accident or illness before you reach a particular age. You’d stay covered without having to pay your monthly rates until you could return to work. This is an excellent rider to consider if your policy has a high premium.


Accidental Death

An accidental death rider increases the death benefit if you die due to an accident. The additional benefit paid in the event of accidental death often equals the original policy's face value, doubling the total payout to your beneficiaries. This rider is a good option if you are the sole breadwinner for your family.


Family Income Benefit

This rider provides a stable flow of income to your dependents when you die, which can help ease some financial strain for your family. It’s a good idea to look closely at the length of coverage available before you sign up.


Long-Term Care

A long-term care rider provides monthly payments if you need to stay in a nursing home or receive home care. Long-term care policies are available on their own or can be added as a rider to life insurance and can ease financial strain for your family if you become sick or disabled.


Return of Premium

You pay a small premium and get your money back at the end of your policy’s term if you are still alive. After you die, your beneficiaries will receive this benefit.


Guaranteed Insurability

The guaranteed insurability rider allows you to increase your policy amount in the future without requiring another medical exam. This can help ensure that future health issues will not prevent you from purchasing additional coverage.


Child Term

This add-on provides coverage if your child dies before a certain age. Term life insurance can be converted to a permanent policy when your child reaches adulthood, and no medical exams are required. The converted coverage can be up to five times the original term insurance amount.


Accelerated Death Benefit

If you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, you can use an accelerated death benefit to receive a percentage of your base policy's benefit. Because of the interest accrued, insurance companies may deduct your payouts from what your beneficiaries receive when you die.

Each rider provides a unique benefit and caters to specific needs. The most common riders are those for long-term care, family income benefit, accidental death benefit, accelerated death benefit and waiver of premium.

Not all insurance companies provide their clients with these riders, even if they offer the best life insurance policy. Location is also a factor, as not all riders are available in all states.

There are some riders you won’t be able to add after you have initiated your life insurance policy. An insurance advisor can help you evaluate the benefits of various rider options and then help you decide which is right for you and your family.

Other Types of Life Insurance Riders

Depending on the insurance company, you may find additional riders you can use to further tailor your insurance policy to your specific needs. Below are some other common types of life insurance riders that you might want to consider.


Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Rider

This rider adjusts your death benefit and premiums based on inflation rates, ensuring that your coverage keeps pace with rising living costs. It's a proactive way to maintain the policy's value over time.


Critical Illness Rider

With a critical illness rider, you receive a lump-sum payment if you're diagnosed with a severe illness like cancer, heart attack or stroke. This can help cover medical expenses and lost income during treatment.


Disability Income Rider

This rider offers a monthly financial benefit if you become disabled and can't work. The amount you receive is generally a predetermined percentage of your policy's face value, offering financial stability during trying times.


Spouse Insurance Rider

The spouse insurance rider allows you to add coverage for your spouse under your own life insurance policy. This can be a cost-effective way to ensure both partners get coverage without buying separate policies.


Lapse Protection Rider

This rider prevents your policy from lapsing due to non-payment of premiums for a specified period. It's useful if you're concerned about missing payments due to financial instability.


Overloan Protection Rider

If you have a cash value life insurance policy, this rider prevents it from lapsing if the loan amount exceeds the cash value.


Term Conversion Rider

This type of rider allows the policyholder to change their term life insurance policy into a permanent one without additional medical screening. This provides flexibility to adapt your coverage as your life circumstances change.

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A rider can duplicate coverage, so it’s a good idea to look at what your insurance policy offers before you add riders.

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Benefits of Life Insurance Riders

There are different types of riders, and each rider offers specific benefits. It’s a good idea to evaluate each rider alongside your financial situation and the policy you’re purchasing.

Some careful research will help ensure that any riders you sign up for are worth the extra premium. Life insurance riders generally offer the following advantages:

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    Riders allow you to customize your life insurance policy and access benefits that your policy doesn’t offer, enhancing your coverage.

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    Buying a rider is often more affordable than buying individual insurance products to provide each benefit.

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    Quick and Easy

    Many riders don’t require you to undergo the underwriting procedure necessary to purchase a new insurance product. This can eliminate hassles like medical exams.

Factors To Consider Before Adding Riders to Your Policy

Not all insurance companies offer all possible riders, and not all riders will fit your unique financial needs. You will want to consider what protection you need and decide if adding a particular rider is worth the cost for your family.


Check to see if you're eligible

Before choosing a rider, ensure you’ve met all its eligibility requirements. Some riders cannot be added after you initiate a policy.


Weigh the cost of the rider against its benefits

You can weigh a rider’s benefits against its cost to determine whether to add it to your life insurance policy. If your base coverage includes the same benefits as a rider, purchasing it may be a waste of money.


Read the terms and conditions

You can evaluate a rider’s benefits and exclusions by reading its terms and conditions. The fine print can help you decide if a particular rider is right for you.


When in doubt, consult a financial advisor

Financial or life insurance advisors may provide an external perspective if you have complicated financial or health concerns. For instance, smoking imposes a high economic and health cost. If you smoke, you may require expert guidance to determine which rider is the most beneficial.

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Not everyone will need to add a rider to their life insurance policy. You shouldn’t feel pressured to sign up for one if you know that your base coverage is enough to take care of your dependents if you die. Sometimes, a simple policy is all you need.

Who Needs Life Insurance Riders?

Life insurance riders enable you to customize your policy to better align with your needs and circumstances. We outlined some scenarios to help you determine whether you should consider adding riders to your life insurance policy.

You May Want to Buy Life Insurance Riders If:
  • You have dependents: If you have children, a spouse or other family members who rely on your income, riders like the family income benefit or child term can provide additional financial security.
  • You're in a high-risk occupation: Jobs that expose you to hazardous conditions may warrant an accidental death rider to provide extra coverage in case of work-related accidents.
  • You have a history of medical issues: If you or your family have a history of critical illnesses, a critical illness rider can offer financial relief during treatment.
  • You're the sole breadwinner: If you're the primary source of income for your household, riders like disability income or accidental death benefit can be invaluable.
  • You anticipate life changes: If you foresee significant life events like marriage or childbirth, a guaranteed insurability rider allows you to increase coverage without a medical exam.
  • You have a high-premium policy: If your base policy has high premiums, a waiver of premium rider can ensure your coverage continues even if you lose your income.
You May Not Need Life Insurance Riders If:
  • You're single with no dependents: If you have no one relying on your income, additional riders may not offer much benefit.
  • You have ample savings: If you've built up significant savings or investments, the financial cushion may negate the need for certain riders.
  • You're in a low-risk occupation: Jobs with minimal risk of injury or death may not require additional riders like accidental death.
  • You have other insurance policies: If you already have specialized insurance policies like long-term care or critical illness coverage, adding similar riders to your life insurance may be redundant.
  • You're on a tight budget: Riders come with additional costs. If you're on a strict budget, the extra premiums could strain your finances.
  • Your base policy is comprehensive: Some life insurance policies already offer extensive coverage, making additional riders unnecessary.

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Ensure you’re getting the best rate for your life insurance. Compare quotes from top providers to find the most affordable life insurance coverage for your needs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

With several riders to choose from, it might be challenging to decide which is best for you. Here are some frequently asked questions about riders to help you choose the right ones for your unique situation.

About Mark Fitzpatrick

Mark Fitzpatrick headshot

Mark Fitzpatrick is a senior content director at MoneyGeek with over five years of experience analyzing the insurance market, conducting original research and creating content that can be personalized for every buyer. He has been quoted on insurance topics in several publications, including CNBC, NBC News and Mashable.

Mark earned a master’s degree in Economics and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree from Boston College. He is passionate about using his economics and insurance knowledge to bring transparency around financial topics and help others feel confident in their money moves.