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Best life insurance: UK 2024 guide

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For guidance on the best life insurance policies in the UK, read our detailed guide to compare quotes, policies and providers.

What is life insurance, and should you get covered?

What is life insurance?

Life insurance is a type of protection policy that pays out a cash lump sum or series of regular payments when the policyholder dies. Some policies also pay out when the policyholder is diagnosed with a critical illness or a terminal illness where life expectancy is up to 12 months. 

The concept is that if you die, the money from the life insurance payout will support your family financially. You pay for life insurance in monthly premiums for a certain amount of cover, which will be paid to named beneficiaries when you pass away. 

There’s no legal requirement to buy life insurance, but having cover in place can give you peace of mind that your family has a financial safety net if the worst were to happen.

You can buy life insurance from a:

  • Mortgage broker
  • Financial adviser
  • Price comparison site
  • Life insurance broker
  • Life insurance company

According to Statista, in 2020, the top three life insurers in the UK by number of plan owners were Legal & General, Aviva and Scottish Widows.

Do you need life insurance?

Parents carrying son on shoulders on beach vacation. African family of mother and father carrying son on his shoulders on vacation.
Life insurance is a must for anyone who wants to look after their family should the unexpected happen (Adobe)

Life insurance isn’t compulsory, and not everyone needs it. However, it’s a good idea if you:

  • Are married
  • Have a joint mortgage with your partner
  • Are a parent
  • Support other people with your salary (e.g. elderly parents)
  • Are a stay-at-home parent 

If you’re single and no one relies on your salary, you probably don’t need life insurance. 

Understanding the best life insurance policies

There are several types of life insurance policy. This table shows how they differ.

Runs for a specified term In place for your whole life Set payout Payout increases over term Payout decreases over time Fixed premiums Cost
Term insurance x x x ££
Decreasing term insurance x x x £
Increasing term insurance x x x x £££
Whole-of-life insurance x x x ✓ or x ££££

What is term insurance?

Term (or level term) insurance pays out if you die within a given period. If you survive beyond the end of the policy’s term, you won’t receive a payout. 

You can choose a term depending on your needs. For example, it might match your mortgage term. The sum that will be paid out is guaranteed and stays the same whenever the policy pays out.

Renewable term insurance is similar to term insurance, but it includes an option to continue the policy beyond the expiry date. 


  • Fixed premiums
  • Set payout


  • More expensive than decreasing term insurance
  • Payout may lose value due to inflation
  • Won’t pay out if you survive the set term

What is decreasing term insurance?

Decreasing term life insurance is a cheaper option. The payout amount reduces each year until it reaches zero at the end of the term. 

Decreasing term life insurance is typically used to protect mortgage repayments and is sometimes called mortgage term cover. As you pay off your mortgage over the years, there will be less for the policy to pay off. 


  • The cheapest form of life insurance
  • Ideal for covering a mortgage/other debts


  • Payout will decrease over time
  • Won’t pay out if you survive the term

What is increasing term insurance?

Increasing term insurance is more expensive than level term or decreasing term insurance, as the amount the insurer will pay out increases over time to protect your payout against inflation.


  • Payout will increase over time
  • Protects against inflation


  • Premiums will increase over time
  • Won’t pay out if you survive the term

What is whole-of-life insurance?

A whole-of-life policy guarantees to pay the sum assured on the death of the person, whenever it occurs. It’s a permanent type of life insurance, as coverage never expires (unlike term insurance).

Whole-of-life insurance is more expensive than term insurance, as the insurer is obligated to make a payout at some point. 

Premiums can either be reviewable or guaranteed. Reviewable premiums start at a low rate but can rise in time. Guaranteed premiums are more expensive to start with but remain the same throughout the policy.


  • Will definitely pay out as long as you keep paying the premiums
  • Protection for your whole life
  • Guaranteed premiums won’t change


  • Most expensive option
  • Reviewable premiums will increase over time
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What type of life insurance should you buy?

The right insurance for you depends on your circumstances, budget and what you need the payout to cover.

If you simply want the payout to cover your mortgage – so a loved one doesn’t have to pay it alone if you die – a form of term insurance might be best. However, you can also pick a term not related to your mortgage, such as when your children finish school or university. If you want a guaranteed payout amount, you’ll need whole-of-life insurance.

Some employers offer a death in service benefit: a payment to your family if you die while in their employment (although you don’t need to die while at work). This could mean you need a smaller amount of life cover.


Factors to consider when choosing a life insurance policy

When taking out life insurance, consider the following:

  • How much cover you need
  • What you want it to pay for
  • How long you need it for
  • Your budget

Joint vs single life insurance

Married or cohabiting couples have two options when it comes to taking out life insurance. They can take out: 

  • Two single policies 
  • A joint life insurance policy that covers both partners

A single life insurance policy covers one person. When that person dies, the policy will pay out a lump sum to their beneficiaries. 

If a couple buys two single life policies, the policies will be completely independent of each other. The policies can be with different insurers and for different amounts. Each policy will pay out when the policyholder dies.

A joint life insurance policy covers both partners, but only pays out once – after the first death. The policy then ends. 

With a joint life insurance policy, both partners must be insured for the same amount, so the payout is the same whoever dies. After the first death, the surviving partner is no longer covered and will need to buy a new policy if they still want life insurance (e.g. to support their children). 

A joint life insurance policy is normally cheaper than two single policies but only provides half the cover. It can also make things complicated if the couple separate.

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What are the biggest life insurance companies in the UK?

According to Statista, these were the top six life insurers by the number of plan owners in 2020.

Insurer Market share (millions)
Legal & General 2.5
Aviva 2.1
Scottish Widows 0.8
SunLife 0.78
Royal London 0.76
AXA 0.64

Comparing life insurance quotes and providers

The top life insurance companies in the UK

Products sold Claims paid Perks Cover starts from Fixed premiums
Legal & General Term insurance Decreasing term 97.9 per cent in 2021 RedArc wellbeing support £5 a month Yes
Aviva Term insurance Decreasing term 99.4 per cent in 2022 DigiCare+ app Annual health checks Mental health counselling £5 a month Yes
Scottish Widows Term insurance Decreasing term 99 per cent in 2021 RedArc Clinic in a Pocket remote GP £5 a month Dependant on factors
SunLife (Over 50s) Term insurance Permanent life insurance 100 per cent Over 50s specialist Guaranteed acceptance (aged 49-85) £3.70 a month Yes
Royal London Term insurance Decreasing term 99.4 per cent in 2022 Optional serious illness benefit £7 a month Dependant on factors

AXA no longer sells life insurance directly to consumers in the UK.

What does life insurance cover?

It’s important to read the policy documents before taking out life insurance so you know what it covers. As a general guide, here’s what life insurance does and doesn’t cover.

What is covered What isn’t covered
Death from an illness Some pre-existing and pre-agreed conditions
Murder/homicide Murder by a beneficiary of the policy
Suicide after a year Suicide in the first year
Accidental death High-risk activities
Death from old age Death due to alcohol/drugs

What to look for when buying life insurance

How much cover do you need?

How much cover you have will determine the payout your beneficiaries will receive when you pass away. 

When calculating how much cover you need, you may want to think about:

  • Mortgage payments
  • Household bills
  • Childcare costs
  • University fees
  • Paying off debts
  • Funeral costs

What type of cover do you need?

The different types of life insurance are described above. Term insurance and decreasing term insurance are the most popular types of life insurance. 

These policies are cheaper than whole-of-life or permanent life insurance, as cover only lasts for a set period of time.

How long do you want the cover to last for?

Whole-of-life insurance runs until you die, whenever that happens. But with term insurance, the policy will end after a set number of years. For example, if your mortgage has 20 years left to run, you might want a decreasing term policy that runs for this length of time. If you have young children, you might want term insurance to run until they finish full-time education. 

Can you afford it?

Life insurance premiums depend on several factors, which are outlined below. It’s important that any cover you buy is affordable. If you stop paying the premiums, the policy will usually be cancelled, and you’ll lose the money you’ve paid up to that point.


What you need to know when you buy life insurance

  • If you stop paying premiums when due, your plan could be cancelled, and you won’t get anything back
  • Some policies have an exclusion where you won’t be covered within the first year of the policy if you die as a result of suicide
  • If your life insurance is to cover your mortgage, your policy may not completely pay off your outstanding mortgage if you add more borrowing to your mortgage at any point or if the interest rate is higher than the rate applied to the policy
  • When you apply for life insurance, you’ll be asked a number of questions about your health and lifestyle. It’s important to answer all the questions honestly. If you fail to tell the truth, this can be classed as non-disclosure and potentially invalidate your policy

Can you cash in your life insurance?

Some whole-of-life policies have an investment element and accrue a cash value, equal to all the premiums you’ve paid plus the returns they’ve earned.

With this type of policy, you might be able to access the cash value while you’re still alive to fund your retirement or long-term care. You might be able to do this by borrowing against the policy or surrendering it, although there could be financial penalties for doing so, so take professional advice first.

Over 50s life insurance options

An over 50s life insurance plan is a type of whole-of-life insurance policy you can take out from the age of 50 up to a limit (typically 80 or 90). The upper age limit only applies to taking out the policy – it remains in place after you reach this age. 

You might take out an over 50s life insurance policy to:

  • Help your loved ones after you die
  • Pay outstanding bills and debts
  • Cover your funeral costs

The key difference between life insurance and over 50s life insurance is that there are no medical questions to answer when you take out over 50s cover, and most insurers guarantee acceptance. To be eligible, you simply need to be aged 50 or over. Over 50s policies are whole-of-life, meaning they pay out whenever you die. This means the payout is guaranteed too. 

With most over 50s policies, you normally only pay premiums for a set time, such as for 30 years or until you turn 90. After that, you won’t have to pay any more, but you’ll still be covered.

However, these policies are more expensive than other types of life insurance and sometimes work out as poor value, as you may eventually pay more than will be paid out when you die. 

Some over 50s policies only cover death from accidents – not illness – for the first 12 or 24 months. If you die of an illness within this period, the insurer will usually only return the premiums paid up to that point.

With over 50s life insurance, you buy a fixed amount of cover. But inflation may erode its value, meaning it might not cover your funeral or other costs when you die.

How much does over 50s insurance cost?

The cost of your over 50s insurance will depend on:

  • Your age
  • The amount of cover you choose

In general, the older you are and the more cover you want, the higher the cost will be.

What is the qualifying period?

Over 50s life insurance doesn’t give you cover from the start if you die from ill health, although accidents are normally covered.

With most policies, there’s a qualifying or waiting period of one, two or three years.

What is a funeral benefit?

Some over 50s plans include a funeral benefit. This is a sum of money added to the payout to your family that will be passed to a pre-determined funeral provider. Although this might sound good, it will tie your family into using a particular funeral firm if they want to use the benefit. Other funeral providers might be cheaper or offer better services.

Who offers over 50s life insurance?

We ran a quote for over 50s life insurance for a 50-year-old woman living in London paying £20 a month. Here are the top insurers.

Insurer Cover amount Qualifying period Funeral benefit option Age you stop paying
Assurity £7,984 36 months No 95
Shepherds Friendly £7,760 24 months £250 80
One Family £7,417 24 months £300 90
National Assurance £6,653 24 months No 85
SunLife £5,872 12 months No
National Friendly £5,511 24 months No

Obtaining accurate life insurance quotes

Step-by-step guide to getting a life insurance quote

Step 1: Decide how much cover you need. You might just want to cover your mortgage and/or household bills or want to cover children’s education expenses too.

Step 2: Choose the type of policy you want. For a guaranteed payout, you’ll need whole-of-life insurance. For a predetermined payout, you’ll need a term policy. Decreasing term insurance is a good option if you want to cover just your mortgage. If you’re 50 or older, look at over 50s policies too.

Step 3: Use a price comparison site to compare premiums, payouts, rewards and any exclusions. You can speak to a life insurance broker to discuss your needs and medical history before making a final decision. 

Life insurance comparison websites

You can compare life insurance quotes on the following websites.

  • Compare The Market
  • Go Compare
  • Uswitch
  • MoneySuperMarket
  • LifeSearch

Factors that affect the cost of life insurance

How much life insurance costs depends on:

  • Your age. It’s best to buy cover when you’re young. As you get older, you’re more likely to develop health conditions.
  • The amount of cover. The higher the payout amount, the more your premiums will be.
  • The policy length. The longer the term, the more you’ll pay in total. Whole-of-life insurance runs until you die and so costs the most.
  • Your health. Your insurer will use your height and weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you have a high BMI, you may have to pay more or be rejected.
  • Your lifestyle. If you smoke and drink regularly, you’ll likely pay more than someone who has healthy habits and exercises regularly.
  • Your medical history. Your insurer will ask about pre-existing conditions. Some common ailments, such as asthma, might not affect your premium, but you could end up paying more if you’ve had cancer or heart disease. 

Why you should speak to a life insurance broker

Life insurance is more complicated than home or car insurance, and there can be consequences for your family if you buy the wrong policy.

You should take professional advice from a life insurance broker before buying cover. A broker has specialist expertise and can advise you about which products best suit your needs. 

Brokers don’t usually charge a fee. Instead, they’re paid a commission by the insurance company. They can also arrange for critical illness cover to be added to your policy if this is the right option for you.

Frequently asked questions about life insurance

Life insurance premiums are affected by your age, your health, your lifestyle, the type of policy and the amount of cover you take out.

The older you are when you begin a life insurance policy, the more expensive premiums will be. You only need life insurance when someone else, such as a partner or child, depends on your income or non-financial contribution to the household.

Critical illness cover pays out a lump sum on the diagnosis of certain conditions, such as a heart attack or cancer. You can choose to add critical illness to your life insurance policy.

Some employers offer life insurance as part of an employee benefits package. It’s sometimes known as a death in service benefit and pays out a lump sum to your beneficiaries if you die while employed by the company. The benefit will stop if you leave your job.

If you’re over 50 and have health issues, a specialist over 50s life insurance policy might be best, as there aren’t any medical questions, you’re guaranteed acceptance and it will cover you for the rest of your life. However, a term life insurance policy might be cheaper, so take professional advice.

In summary

You should take out life insurance if someone else, such as a spouse or child, relies on your salary and would struggle financially if you were to die. There’s no legal obligation to buy life insurance. You generally don’t need it if you’re single and childfree.

The right life insurance policy can enable your family to pay off a mortgage and other expenses, such as household bills or education costs. Having cover in place gives you peace of mind that your family would be protected financially if you were to pass away.

emma lunn

Emma Lunn

Money Writer

Emma Lunn is a multi-award winning journalist who specialises in personal finance and consumer issues. 

With more than 18 years’ experience in personal finance, Emma has covered topics including mortgages, first-time buyers, leasehold, banking, debt, budgeting, broadband, energy, pensions and investments. 

Emma’s one of the most prolific freelance personal finance journalists with a back catalogue of work in newspapers such as The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, the Mail on Sunday, and the Mirror. 

As a freelancer she has also completed various in-house contracts at The Guardian, The Independent, Mortgage Solutions, Orange, and Moneywise. She also writes regularly for specialist magazines and websites such as Property Hub, Mortgage Strategy and 

She has a real passion for helping people learn about money – especially when many people are struggling to get by in today’s challenging economic climate – and prides herself on simplifying complex subjects.