Great Western Insurance Company Review

Offering life insurance plans for burial expenses

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Great Western Life Insurance

Great Western Life Insurance

Our Take

The Great Western Insurance Company offers basic whole life policies that are designed specifically to cover burial costs and other final expenses. Some policies are guaranteed issue, but those in excellent health can qualify for additional benefits like an accelerated death benefit and increased face amount. However, its coverage amounts and policies are very limited, and the company has received more complaints than is typical for a company of its size. Many customers will be better off purchasing insurance from another insurer. 

  • Pros and Cons
  • Key Takeaways
  • Company Overview
Pros and Cons
Pros
  • 30-day guarantee

  • Simplified-issue policies

  • Some riders and benefits included

Cons
  • High number of complaints

  • Limited policy options

  • Preneed plans can only be used with partner funeral homes

Key Takeaways
  • The Great Western Insurance Company is a subsidiary of American Enterprise Group.
  • Great Western was founded in 1983 and specializes in final expense and preneed funeral policies.
  • Policies are sold through independent agents and funeral home partners.
  • It is not licensed in Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey, or New York.
  • The company is based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Company Overview

The Great Western Insurance Company is a subsidiary of American Enterprise Group. Great Western was founded in 1983 by John E. Lindquist, an owner of a mortuary and cemetery. Since its inception, the company has focused on final expense and preneed funeral policies. 

Today, the company is based in Des Moines, Iowa. It has partnerships with about 2,800 funeral homes and 46,000 insurance agents that connect customers to its policies. Great Western is licensed to sell its policies in 46 states and the District of Columbia. The only states where it isn’t licensed are Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York. 

In addition to its life insurance policies, Great Western also sells group annuities

  • Year Founded 1983
  • Kinds of Plans Final expense, preneed
  • Number of Plans 5
  • Payment Plan Options Monthly
  • Customer Service Insurance agents, partners
  • Phone Final expense: 800-995-9010; Preneed: 800-733-5454
  • Official Website www.gwic.com

Great Western Insurance Company is not one of our top-rated life insurance companies. You can review our list of the best life insurance companies for what we think are better options.

Pros Explained

  • 30-day guarantee: While insurance companies must offer a "free look" period, it usually only lasts for 10 days. By contrast, Great Western offers a 30-day guarantee. If you change your mind and decide to cancel your policy within 30 days of its issuance, you’ll get a full refund of all premiums and fees paid. 
  • Simplified-issue policies: While most insurance policies require medical exams and extensive underwriting, Great Western’s plans are simpler. None of the plans require medical exams. Some are guaranteed issue, meaning you cannot be denied based on your medical history. 
  • Accelerated death benefit included on some plans: Some Great Western policies include this valuable rider at no additional cost. With a final expense plan, accelerated death benefits are included on all policies, allowing you to use up to 90% of your policy’s death benefit while you’re living if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness. 

Cons Explained

  • High number of complaints: Great Western has received more complaints than is generally expected for a company of its size. Its complaint ratio for its individual life was more than three times as high as the industry standard. 
  • Limited policy options: Great Western only sells final expense and preneed funeral policies with coverage amounts of $40,000 or less. If you’re looking for more options, such as term or universal life plans, or higher coverage amounts, you’ll have to work with another insurance company. 
  • Preneed plans can only be used with partner funeral homes: If you purchase a preneed funeral insurance policy, you can’t use the plan’s coverage to plan a funeral at any funeral home of your choosing. You can only use the policy at one of Great Western’s partners, which may be very restrictive. There are over 19,000 funeral homes in the country, and Great Western is partnered with only about 2,800 of them. 
What You Need to Know

As of 2019, the national median cost of a funeral with a viewing and burial was $7,640.

Available Plans

The Great Western Insurance Company only sells final expense and preneed funeral plans. They are basic whole life policies with relatively low coverage amounts. Policies are either simplified issue and require a medical questionnaire or guaranteed issue. If you’re in excellent health, you can qualify for day-one coverage. Other policyholders can qualify for coverage but will have a graded benefit, meaning the death benefit for the first few years will be lower than the policy face amount.

Great Western has five policy options: 

Final Expense

A final expense policy is a whole life plan with a relatively low face amount. Despite its name, the beneficiary can use a final expense policy’s death benefit however they wish, but the policies are designed to cover your burial costs and other end-of-life expenses. With Great Western, coverage amounts on final expense policies range from $10,000 to $40,000, and the plans are available to people between the ages of 40 and 80. 

Great Western offers two final expense plans:

  • Assurance Plus: The Assurance Plus plan is for applicants in good to excellent health. If you can answer “no” to a few basic health questions, you will qualify for a 25% increase of the full death benefit starting on day one, and no medical exam is required. However, applicants will have to answer questions about their health and undergo a telephone interview and prescription history review. The Assurance Plus plan includes an accelerated death benefit at no additional cost. 
  • Guaranteed Assurance: The Guaranteed Assurance plan requires no health questions or medical underwriting. How much your beneficiary will receive depends on timing and the cause of death. If the policyholder dies from another cause other than an accident during the first two years of the policy, the beneficiary will receive only 110% of the premiums paid to date. If the policyholder dies within the first two years due to an accident, the full death benefit is issued to the beneficiary. After the first two years, the full death benefit is paid out regardless of the cause of death. 

Preneed Funeral Insurance

With preneed funeral insurance, you can pre-plan your funeral and burial with a funeral home. The policy is designed to cover the cost of your arrangements so your loved ones don’t have to worry about the expense. 

To purchase a preneed funeral plan, you must contact one of Great Western’s funeral home partners and meet with a representative to discuss your options. You can plan every detail of your funeral service, including what casket you’d like and what transportation you want your loved ones to have. Based on your selections, the funeral home will total the cost, and that amount is the basis for your preneed funeral policy. 

There are three preneed funeral plans: 

  • Voyage: With the Voyage policy, the plan’s death benefit is either the total of all premiums paid or the face amount plus the interest that has accrued on the policy. The plan has single, one-year, five-year, and 10-year payment options. If you are in good health, you can qualify for first-day coverage. Otherwise, you will have a graded death benefit. 
  • Course: The Course plan gives you a favorable growth rate on the face amount of your policy, but your premiums will be slightly cheaper than they would be with a Voyage plan. 
  • Destination: The Destination Plan is designed for those who are terminally ill and expect to die within days or weeks. There is no health questionnaire, and the death benefit is either the total of the premiums paid or the policy's cash surrender value, whichever is greater. 

Available Riders

When you buy life insurance, most insurers allow you to customize your policy by adding optional insurance riders to your plan. Through the use of riders, you may purchase coverage for your spouse or children, use a portion of your benefits if you become ill, or get additional coverage if your needs change later on. 

The Great Western Insurance Company has just two riders available: 

Accelerated Death Benefit

Included on final expense policies at no additional cost, the accelerated death benefit allows you to use some of your policy’s death benefit while you’re alive if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. Great Western allows you to use up to 90% of your policy face amount. 

Dependent Child and Grandchild

If you purchase a final expense policy, you can add the dependent child and grandchild rider to your plan for just $1 per month. The rider will give you a one-time $2,500 benefit if a dependent child or grandchild dies. 

Customer Service

None of Great Western's policies is sold online, nor does the company provide online quote tools. To purchase a final expense policy, you must work with an insurance agent. If you want to buy a preneed funeral policy, you have to contact one of Great Western’s funeral home partners. To find either an agent or funeral home partner, you can use Great Western’s locator tools

If you have general questions about Great Western or its policies, you can reach customer service by phone or email: 

Phone: 

  • Final expense: 800-733-5454
  • Preneed funeral policies: 800-995-9010


Email: 

The Great Western Insurance Company does have educational materials on its website you can use to learn about life insurance options and funeral planning, and you can use its calculators to determine how much your funeral will cost. There is also a customer portal where you can download policy documents, make payments, and check the status of claims. 

Complaint Index

When you’re making a big purchase, you likely look up product reviews to see what other customers have experienced. Life insurance is no different; you can use the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) website to see how many complaints consumers submitted about a particular company and what those complaints were about.

The NAIC issues complaint ratios every year that reflect the number of complaints submitted about a company relative to the insurer’s share of the market. The industry standard is 1.0. A company with a ratio above 1.0 received more complaints than is typical for its size, while a ratio below 1.0 indicates the company received fewer complaints than expected. 

In 2020, Great Western’s complaint ratio for its individual life insurance segment was 3.61, more than three times as high as the expected ratio in its market. Complaints concerned premium refunds and problems or delays getting answers to questions. Its overall complaint ratio, which includes its annuity segment, was 0.81 in 2020, slightly better than the industry index.  

Note

For the past three years, Great Western’s complaint ratio for its individual life insurance segment has been worse than the industry standard.

Third-Party Ratings

If you’re purchasing an insurance policy to cover your funeral expenses after you’re gone, you want to be sure the insurer you select is financially stable and able to pay out any claims. 

An excellent resource is AM Best, a credit rating agency that evaluates insurance companies and issues its opinions on the insurers’ financials with its Financial Strength Ratings. 

In 2021, AM Best upgraded the Financial Strength Ratings of the American Enterprise Group’s subsidiaries, including Great Western Insurance Company. Recognizing the company’s improved balance sheet strength and operating performance, AM Best raised its rating from A- to A, both considered "Excellent" ratings by AM Best. 

Great Western is a relatively small insurer compared to companies like Northwestern Mutual or New York Life, so it was not included in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Individual Life Insurance Study. The study evaluated and ranked top life insurance companies based on their policies, pricing, and customer service.  

Cancellation Policy

When you purchase a life insurance policy, you can take advantage of a free look period that usually lasts for 10 days. During the free look period, you can decide to cancel your policy without penalty. If you cancel within the first 10 days of your policy’s issue date, you’ll get a full refund. 

Great Western goes above and beyond the 10-day free look requirement with a 30-day guarantee. If you aren’t completely satisfied with your policy, you can get a full refund of all premiums paid as long as you cancel within 30 days of your policy’s issue date. 

After the first 30 days, you can cancel your policy at any time by contacting your agent or the funeral home partner. With a final expense policy, you will get the policy cash surrender value. With a preneed policy, you are entitled to the cash value of the policy, which may be substantially less than the total of the premiums you paid. 

For details, contact an insurance agent or funeral home partner and review the policy contracts carefully before signing.  

Price

The Great Western Insurance Company doesn’t list its typical premiums, nor does it have an online quote tool for its policies. The only way to get information about its pricing is to contact one of its partner funeral homes or an insurance agent. Keep in mind that Great Western agents work on commission and have a financial incentive to sell policies to you. 

Like other insurance companies, Great Western requires you to select either “male” or “female” when getting a quote or applying for a life insurance policy. While being nonbinary doesn’t disqualify you from getting life insurance, you should be aware that most insurance companies haven’t updated their underwriting processes to reflect a current awareness of gender issues. 

Competition

Because Great Western has such limited life insurance options and coverage amounts, we compared the insurance company to New York Life, the second-largest life insurance company based on direct premiums written. 

Unlike Great Western, New York Life offers a variety of life insurance products, including term, whole life, universal, and variable universal policies. Whether you want a basic policy to cover your funeral expenses or a robust plan that provides lasting financial support to your beneficiaries, New York Life has life insurance options to meet your needs. Depending on the policy you choose, you can get coverage of $1 million or more. 

New York Life offers more customization options than Great Western. You can use accidental death benefits, chronic care benefits, waivers of premiums, and other riders to adjust your coverage. 

New York Life also has a better reputation for customer service. In 2020, New York Life’s complaint ratio for its individual life insurance segment was just 0.24, lower than the industry standard. And, it was ranked sixth out of 23 companies in the J.D. Power 2020 U.S. Individual Life Insurance Study. Whereas Great Western isn’t available in some states, New York Life is licensed to sell life insurance in all 50 states. 

  Great Western Insurance Company New York Life 
Market Share  Not applicable Second-largest in the U.S., 6.0%
Number of Plans  5
Dividends for 2020  Not applicable  $1.9 billion
Wellness Program Discounts/Quit Smoking Incentives  Not applicable  Not applicable 
Service Method  Insurance agents, funeral home partners Agents 
AM Best Rating  A (Excellent) A++ (Superior) 
Complaints Trend  3.61 0.24 
Final Verdict

The Great Western Insurance Company offers simple final expense and preneed funeral policies with coverage amounts of $40,000 or less. Its plans may be appealing because they’re relatively affordable and they don’t require medical exams. However, Great Western has very few policy options and riders, and its coverage maximums may be inadequate for your beneficiaries’ needs. If you want more options, including the ability to purchase term or universal coverage, you’ll need to get insurance from another company.

How We Review Life Insurance Companies

Our reviews of life insurance companies are based on a quantitative methodology that analyzes each insurer on their stability and reliability, customer service, claims experience, diversity of product lines, and cost. We compare the terms of each type of policy offered—including available coverage amounts, optional riders, and premium payment options—with those of other major life insurance companies. Lastly, we look at how the company is rated by third-party organizations to determine its reliability and overall reputation. 

Article Sources

Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
  1. NAIC. "Complaint Index - Great Western Insurance Company." Accessed. September 5, 2021.

  2. National Funeral Directors Association. "Statistics." Accessed September 6, 2021.

  3. AM Best. "AM Best Upgrades Credit Ratings of Insurance Subsidiaries of American Enterprise Group, Inc." Accessed September 5, 2021. 

  4. J.D. Power. "Life Insurance Customer Satisfaction Flatlines Despite Pandemic Fears, J.D. Power Finds." Accessed September 5, 2021. 

  5. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Life Insurance." Accessed September 5, 2021. 

  6. New York Life. "Complaint Index - New York Life Insurance Company." Accessed September 5, 2021.