For any life insurance policy, the face value is the death benefit. This is the stated dollar amount that the policy's beneficiaries receive upon the death of the insured. In most cases, the face value is transferred to the beneficiaries tax-free. A policy's face value can be supplemented by additional benefits that have been added beyond the basic plan coverage. Face value is different from the cash value.

To calculate the full benefit that is paid out to beneficiaries in the event of the insured's death, consult the schedule of benefits in the policy.

Most life insurance companies also offer riders, which are additional benefits that can be purchased on a plan. For example, some riders stipulate that the face value doubles if the insured dies because of a specific type of accident. Altogether, the face value plus additional benefits are what constitute the policy's total death benefit.

Key Takeaways

  • The face value for a life insurance policy is the death benefit, or what a beneficiary will be paid if the policyholder dies while the policy is active.
  • The face value determines the cost of the policy; with a higher face value, a policyholder will have higher monthly premiums.
  • The face value of the policy is detailed in the schedule of benefits; it can be increased if additional benefits have been added on, such as riders.

Face Value Influences Cost

Face value is one of the most important factors that influence the cost of a life insurance policy. For example, a 25-year old woman trying to buy a term life insurance policy from Company XYZ would expect to pay more for a $500,000 face value policy than a $100,000 face value policy. The face value is the amount that the insurance company is on the hook for should the woman die during the course of the term.

What Causes a Change in Face Value?

There are many different events that can trigger a change in face value for a policy. In some policies, the cash value can potentially grow large enough that it actually causes corresponding increases in face value. Unpaid loans from an insurance policy can be deducted from the policy's face value. Sometimes, a reduced face value can be paid out in the event of serious injury to the insured. Any potential change in face value is addressed in the policy itself.

Advisor Insight

Steve Kobrin, LUTCF
The firm of Steven H. Kobrin, LUTCF, Fair Lawn, NJ

The key thing is to determine how big a face value to buy. To calculate it, start off by asking yourself these questions:

  • How much money will my spouse and children need to maintain their current quality of life?
  • How much will they need to pay my debts, taxes and other estate-related costs?
  • How much will my favorite charities need to replace my donations?

Next, figure out the length of time you need the coverage for any category. For example, if your youngest child is two years old now, you’d want to provide for him at least through college. So assume a sum that’ll stretch for another 20 years.

It may be more cost-effective to use several policies of different face amounts and guarantee periods to cover these various needs, or it may be simpler to have one big fat policy to cover everything.