What Is Insurable Interest?

A person or entity has an insurable interest in an item, event or action when the damage or loss of the object would cause a financial loss or other hardships. To have an insurable interest a person or entity would take out an insurance policy protecting the person, item or event in question. The insurance policy mitigates the risk of loss should something beset the asset.

Insurable interest is an essential requirement for issuing an insurance policy which makes the entity or event legal, valid and protected against intentionally harmful acts. People not subject to financial loss do not have an insurable interest. Therefore a person or entity cannot purchase an insurance policy to cover themselves in the event of a loss.

Understanding Insurable Interest

Insurance is a method of pooled risk exposure which protects policyholders from financial losses. Insurers have created many tools to cover losses related to various factors such as automobile expenses, health care expenses, loss of income through disability, loss of life and damage to property.

Insurable interest is a type of investment which protects anything subject to a financial loss. It specifically applies to people or entities where there is a reasonable assumption of longevity or sustainability, barring any unforeseen adverse events. Insurable interest insures against the prospect of a loss to this person or entity. As an example, a corporation may have an insurable interest in the chief executive officer (CEO) and an American football team may have an insurable interest in a star, franchise quarterback. Further, a business may have an insurable interest in c-suite officers but not in the average employee.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurable interest is the basis of all insurance policies.
  • An insurable interest is an object which, if damaged or destroyed, would result in financial hardship for the policyholder.
  • To exercise insurable interest, the policyholder would buy insurance on the person or item in question.
  • The policy must not create moral hazard, in which a policyholder would have a financial incentive to allow or even cause a loss.

Property Insurable Interest

Homeowners insurance compensates a policyholder who suffers a significant financial loss if a fire or other destructive force destroys his or her home. The homeowner has an insurable interest in the property; losing that home would create a catastrophic loss for the policyholder. It is reasonable for the homeowner to expect longevity regarding the ownership of the house. The homeowner is, therefore, insuring against the possibility that something unforeseeable causes damage.

A policyholder may buy property insurance for their own home but not the house across the street. Purchasing homeowners insurance for a neighbor’s house creates an incentive to cause damage to that house and collect the insurance proceeds–appropriate underwriting would not create such a temptation, which represents a moral hazard whereby parties have an incentive to allow or even affect a loss.

The Principle of Indemnity and Insurable Interest

The indemnification principle holds that insurance policies should compensate a policyholder for a covered loss, but losses should not reward or penalize holders. Indemnification suggests insurers should design policies to cover the value of the at-risk asset appropriately. Poorly conceived or designed policies create a moral hazard which increases the costs to insurance companies and drives premiums to unsustainable levels for policyholders.

Real World Example of Insurable Interest

Insurable interest is also necessary in life insurance although this has not always been the case. There are cases where people have purchased life insurance policies for elderly acquaintances strictly with the expectation of that person's imminent death. Life insurance regulations have evolved to require a relationship in which the policy owner will suffer a financial loss in the event of the insured's death. Hardship may include immediate family members, more distant blood relatives, romantic partners, creditors, and business associates. The face value of life insurance policies must not exceed the human life value of the insured; otherwise, the indemnity principle would be violated creating moral hazard.

Also, a policy may not be written without the knowledge of the insured person. As the Los Angeles Times reports, this was the case in September 2018. A California couple stands accused of committing three counts of insurance fraud to receive US$ 1 million in life insurance benefits. Husband and wife, Peter and Jin Kim purchased life insurance on one of Mr. Kim's clients and listed Mrs. Kim as the client's beneficiary niece. On a second policy, Mrs. Kim appeared as the sister of the policyholder. Mr. Kim, a licensed insurance agent, also did not inform the company that the client had a diagnosed terminal illness when he submitted the applications.