Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Though life insurance can provide coverage in the case of suicide, many policies have special provisions that limit the payment of benefits.  

Key Takeaways

  • Many life insurance policies contain a suicide clause or provision.
  • Companies will typically not pay a death benefit if the policyholder commits suicide within the first one to two years that the policy is in force.
  • Changing a policy can restart the suicide exclusion period.
  • Insurance companies may request additional documentation if they suspect suicide as the cause of death.

How Suicide Clauses Work

Insurance companies want to prevent people from having a financial incentive to take their own lives. That’s why many life insurance policies have a suicide clause, also known as a suicide provision. 

As defined in their suicide clause, insurance companies will typically not pay a death benefit if the covered person dies by suicide within the first two years of coverage—commonly known as the exclusion period. When the exclusion period ends, the policy's beneficiaries can receive a death benefit if the covered person dies by suicide after that date. 

In Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota, the exclusion period is shorter; after the policy has been in force for one year, the beneficiaries are entitled to the death benefit if the covered person dies by suicide. 

Any changes to a policy—such as adding coverage or converting a term policy into a whole life policy—can reset the clock, and the exclusion period will start over. 

Suicide provisions can also vary according to the type of coverage you have:

Group Life Insurance

Unlike most individual life insurance policies, many group life policies—the kind of life insurance people often get through their employers—do not have a suicide clause. If a covered person dies as a result of suicide, their beneficiaries will typically receive the death benefit.

Term Life Insurance

With individual term life insurance, beneficiaries can claim the death benefit as long as the exclusion period has ended. If the person dies after the policy has been in effect for one to two years, the beneficiaries are entitled to the full benefit. But if the person dies during the exclusion period, the beneficiaries might receive only the sum of premiums paid to date. 

Whole Life Insurance

With whole life policies, the beneficiaries might receive the plan’s cash value even if the covered person dies during the exclusion period. When the exclusion period ends, the beneficiaries can receive the full death benefit and cash value. 

How Does an Insurance Company Know If Someone Died by Suicide? 

When a policyholder dies, and their beneficiaries file a claim, the insurance company will request a death certificate. The death certificate would describe the cause of death and note if the person's death was self-inflicted. 

If the death certificate is inconclusive or includes a questionable cause of death, the insurance company may require additional documentation, such as an autopsy report, a medical examiner report, an EMS report, or the person's medical records. 

Because deaths by suicide can take longer to investigate, the beneficiaries might experience a delay in receiving the life insurance policy’s benefit. 

While the claims process can be more complex and time-consuming, beneficiaries shouldn't let that deter them from filing a claim. They may be entitled to benefits that could help them financially as they try to recover from the tragedy. 

Help for Anyone Contemplating Suicide 

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or mental health issues, get help now. You are not alone. If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or via live chat. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides free and confidential support.