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Types of Life Insurance, as Explained by Mom's Favorite TV Shows

By Jessica Sillers May 9, 2023

In this article

Term Life: Modern Family

No-Exam Life Insurance: Great British Bake Off

Whole Life: Outlander

Variable Life: Bridgerton

Universal: Flip or Flop

Variable Universal: Succession

Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D): Supernatural

Juvenile Whole Life: Abbott Elementary

Simplified Issue: Ted Lasso

Guaranteed Issue: Wednesday

Growing up, I always admired my mom’s ability to balance the serious things in life (doctor’s appointments, school, work) with the fun things (tickle sessions, ice cream runs, movie nights).  

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I was thinking about how hard it is to navigate all the infinite choices mothers face regularly. Watching television with my mom recently, it occurred to me that deciding what to watch is a little like learning about life insurance. I know it feels like to get sucked into perusing options. There are a lot of types of life insurance out there, and while you know there’s probably a great option for you, it can be a little overwhelming to take in.

So imagine being stretched out on the couch with your mother or another important person in your life, bowl of popcorn in reach. Here’s how those TV shows you share might help you keep the different types of life insurance straight, making it easier to choose the right policy when you’re ready.

Term Life: Modern Family

Term life is a popular choice for families because of its affordability and high coverage amounts. We’d recommend term policies for any of the families on Modern Family, because they all have kids who depend on them.

Term life insurance offers coverage for a specific period of time (e.g., 10 or 20 years). If you pass away during the term, your loved ones get an insurance payout. Term life doesn’t build any separate cash value component the way some permanent policies do.

You might think of term life insurance as helping replace the income you’d earn to support your family if you passed away in your working years. Some experts recommend 10 times your salary as a rule of thumb to estimate your coverage needs. It’s worth noting that non-earning partners should also have a policy—the character Gloria is a housewife, but her family would be a mess without her. It’s worth protecting the value that stay-at-home parents bring for their families as well as those who work outside the home.

Even if, much like a favorite TV series, term life insurance naturally comes to an end, many families still feel like it’s worth it

Does term life sound like a good fit for you? Check out term life through Fabric by Gerber Life.

No-Exam Life Insurance: Great British Bake Off

Great British Bake Off was our comfort show during the pandemic because of its gentle pace and supportive environment. Unlike American cooking shows that thrive on drama, GBBO keeps it stress-free and soothing—with the possible exception of the technical challenge, a notoriously fiddly bake.

It got us thinking about the way no-exam life insurance helps make the application process as easy and stress-free as possible. Many life insurance applications require a full medical exam so underwriters have a thorough sense of any health risks. A no-exam policy lets qualifying applicants skip the medical exam and answer health questions instead, making getting life insurance easier, so you can get back to baking a showstopper (or whatever else you love).

It’s worth noting that if you apply for term life insurance through Fabric, you might be approved on the spot and/or might be able to skip the medical exam.

Whole Life: Outlander

Term life insurance is a great option for people who may naturally outgrow their need for life insurance (e.g., when kids move out on their own). But in other cases, you might need to protect your loved ones beyond a specific period of time. No one would know this better than Claire from Outlander, who’s caught between loved ones across centuries.

Okay, so whole life insurance isn’t actually underwritten for time travel. But it is designed to cover you throughout your life. It’s one of the simpler forms of permanent life insurance, with consistent premiums and a guaranteed interest rate on the cash value component of your policy. The cash value component is distinct from the face value (or benefit amount) of the policy. You can borrow from cash value while you’re alive and potentially use it to pay premiums at times. Whole life costs substantially more than term life for the same coverage amount, so you need to be able to plan for higher premium payments in your budget.

Families might choose a whole life policy to provide for lifelong dependents like family members with disabilities, or to leave a guaranteed benefit for their loved ones. If you know you’ll want life insurance coverage that reaches across time (or at least your lifetime), whole life can be a great choice.

Variable Life: Bridgerton

We often think of life insurance’s ability to help protect your family’s finances if you passed away. For some families, life insurance has a more complex role as both financial safety net and wealth management tool. A life insurance’s cash value component comes with tax-advantaged growth that may be part of your money management strategy. A financial advisor can help you assess whether using life insurance as part of your overall savings strategy is right for you.

We don’t know if the fictional version of Regency England where Bridgerton takes place has variable life insurance, but it would be interesting to see how the families’ fortunes could be affected by a policy. 

Whole life insurance offers guaranteed interest rates on cash value, but these may be only around 1.5-3.5 percent, not enough to counter the effects of inflation. Instead of offering a fixed interest rate for the cash value component, variable life policies invest in mutual fund sub-accounts that perform with the market. The average annual stock market return was 10 percent in the last 50 years, and almost 15 percent from 2012-2021. That could mean a variable life insurance policy has a good chance of accruing much higher cash value growth—or, like in 2022, market performance could tumble. If you’re okay with more risk and want a greater potential gain, variable life insurance can be a good option to consider.

Universal: Flip or Flop

Universal life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that puts more control in your hands than a whole life policy. You can adjust what you pay in premiums—either paying extra to help your cash value component grow faster, or paying less than the minimum premium amount and using cash value funds to cover the difference. Many universal life insurance policies offer the option to decrease the death benefit, and some let you increase the death benefit as well, as long as you pass any requirements (such as a medical assessment).

Universal life’s flexibility is both its most important perk and a reason to check carefully before deciding this option is right for you. Our favorite home remodeling shows teach us that there are ways to adjust a house (or policy) to be a dream fit, but unexpected twists in demo or rebuilding can add costs and stress. 

If you’d be happy about rolling up your sleeves to “remodel” your life insurance policy by monitoring cash value and adjusting your premiums to fit your needs, universal life may provide flexible options for you. If fluctuating costs and risk of draining your cash value sounds more like a flop, look into term or whole life policies instead. 

Variable Universal: Succession

Variable universal life insurance combines elements from variable and universal life insurance policies. You get a lot of flexibility with this kind of policy, as you can adjust your death benefit amount while also correlating your cash value to market performance.

We think Logan Roy of Succession might enjoy having that extra flexibility with a life insurance policy as he decides how to handle complicated family dynamics and the next steps for his business.

Variable universal life can have flexible premium payments and higher potential returns than some other permanent life insurance options. If your cash value performs well, you might be able to use it to cover part or all of your premium costs. Some people may consider a variable universal policy for part of their retirement (or succession) planning, because of tax benefits and flexible premiums. 

Variable universal life insurance is also more complicated than many other life insurance options and may come with higher fees than setting up certain investments on your own. The death benefit may also fluctuate depending on various factors, including how your investments perform, so it’s important to understand how much you’ll really leave for your heirs.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D): Supernatural

Life insurance policies generally cover almost every cause of death (one exception would be dying by suicide during an initial period of time after purchasing a policy). In some cases, you might be interested in a policy that covers accidents and certain injuries as well as death. As an extreme example, let’s say you live in a world like Supernatural, where monsters lurk around every corner.

Accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) insurance is a form of guaranteed issue insurance, so it’s based on age only, rather than medical underwriting. It pays a benefit for a list of qualifying accidental deaths (e.g., yes to car crash, no to heart disease) and certain serious injuries (e.g., paralysis, losing an eye or limb). 

AD&D policies often won’t cover accidents that happen because of high-risk careers or hobbies (e.g., firefighting). Sam and Dean, the brothers in Supernatural who go out of their way to fight vampires and demons, probably can’t get their “hunting” lifestyle covered. But victims of vengeful spirit attacks in the show could benefit from a policy that offers a life insurance payout for their families.

Juvenile Whole Life: Abbott Elementary

In most cases, adults are the ones getting life insurance coverage. They’re the ones who have dependents who rely on them, after all. But in some cases, families choose to buy policies for their children, too.

Abbott Elementary is a fun way to see childhood in all its silly glory, and to think about the potential of every child in the classroom and how much the adults care about setting them up for their best possible future. Parents may see a juvenile whole life policy as a way to protect their kids’ future insurability, since kids can choose to purchase additional life insurance without medical assessment when they reach adulthood. Or they can choose to draw from the cash value of their policy to use toward other financial goals. 

Simplified Issue: Ted Lasso

Getting life insurance can be more complicated as you get older. Especially if you develop some health problems, your options to find insurers to cover you can become more limited. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of options.

A comedy like Ted Lasso reminds us that overcoming setbacks starts with simple values. Ted’s kind, optimistic approach reminds us of how simplified issue life insurance policies aim to make getting life insurance accessible for more people. A simplified issue policy generally skips the life insurance medical exam that other policies typically require and asks medical questions instead. Simplified issue policies can come with higher premiums and lower benefit limits than some other policies. But if your age or health has you feeling like a life insurance underdog, simplified issue can be an option to find coverage.

Guaranteed Issue: Wednesday

They say there are two guarantees in life: death and guaranteed issue life insurance. (Well, OK, I say that.) While death isn’t always an easy topic, characters like Wednesday Addams may welcome a chance to think about a meaningful funeral—and you might feel better for taking care of a stressful expense for your family.

Guaranteed issue life insurance lets you get a policy regardless of your age or health status. The death benefit is usually small, with many policies capping around $25,000. These policies also usually come with higher premiums for the level of coverage than other types of life insurance. Guaranteed issue life insurance isn’t always the best choice if you can get approved for a different type of life insurance. “Self-insuring” by saving money is another alternative to a guaranteed policy.

But if you’re having a hard time getting approved for life insurance and want to leave a benefit for your loved ones to cover final expenses, a guaranteed issue policy can be an option to provide you with some coverage.

Your life insurance needs may adapt as your life stage and family situation changes. Know what options are out there, and you can match your needs to a policy that can work best for you.

Fabric exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Fabric by Gerber Life exists to help young families master their money. Our articles abide by strict editorial standards.

Information provided is general and educational in nature and is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, financial, legal, or tax advice. Laws of a specific state or laws relevant to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. We make no warranties with regard to the information or results obtained by its use, and disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or reliance on, the information.

Fabric by Gerber Life offers a mobile experience for people on-the-go who want an easy and fast way to purchase life insurance.

Written by

Jessica Sillers

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Term Life Insurance Policy Series ICC22 2205-4004 WSA and Accelerated Death Benefit Rider policy series ICC22 2205-2623 WSA (and state variations where applicable) issued by Western-Southern Life Assurance Company, Cincinnati, OH which operates in DC and all states except NY, and distributed by Gerber Life Agency, LLC using Fabric Technologies. Gerber Life Agency, LLC is an affiliate of Gerber Life Insurance Company (est. 1967). All are members of Western & Southern Financial Group (Western & Southern). Issuance of coverage for Term Life Insurance is subject to underwriting review and approval. Please see a copy of the policy for the full terms, conditions and exclusions. Product provisions, availability, definitions and benefits may vary by state. Payment of benefits under the life insurance policy is the obligation of, and is guaranteed by, the issuing company. Guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the issuer. Products are backed by the full financial strength of the issuing company.

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