Joint Life Insurance: What Is It? How Does It Work?

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Most individuals who buy life insurance get an individual policy that pays out only if the insured person dies. A couple has another alternative: instead of buying many separate individual policies, they may invest in joint life insurance.

What is a joint life insurance policy?

It’s a two-person life insurance policy, which pays out when one of them dies. Permanent whole life and universal life insurance is the most common type, but term insurance is also available.

What is the difference between joint life and survivorship life?

Survivorship policies, also known as second-to-die life insurance, are a type of joint insurance coverage that pays out a benefit after the second person’s death.

Joint Life Insurance Policies vs. Individual Life Insurance Policies

Individual life insurance policies cover a single individual, whereas joint life insurance protects two people.

This policy will only pay a death benefit if one of the insured dies. As a result, most of those who acquire this insurance are either married or domestic partners, even though they do not have to be.

What are the two main types of joint life coverage?

Joint life insurance covers two individuals who will likely die at two different times, paying a single life insurance benefit. Insurance companies offer two kinds of joint coverage to accommodate various scenarios. 

First-to-die life insurance

First-to-die life insurance pays the death benefit after the first person dies. Once the proceeds are paid out, the second person has no remaining coverage. If they want to continue having life insurance protection, they must apply for new coverage. As a result, first-to-die coverage is less common today.

Second-to-die life insurance

Second-to-die life insurance coverage, sometimes called survivorship life insurance, pays out the death benefit proceeds only after the second (surviving) person passes away.

Second-to-die coverage for estate planning is typically purchased with a permanent policy such as a whole life or universal life insurance policy. Term insurance is not used because if the policy term ends before the second covered person dies, no assets will be passed to beneficiaries.

Joint Life Insurance: Pros and Cons


  • It may be a more affordable alternative for young, two-income families.
  • The surviving spouse has more control over estate planning.


  • Additional insurance may be required in the future, which is more expensive.
  • It might be more expensive than individual insurance if one partner has a pre-existing condition.
  • A payout might take a long time to arrive.
  • When couples divorce, it isn’t easy to divide their insurance policies.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can a life insurance policy have two owners?

Yes, a life insurance policy can have two owners. This is known as joint ownership. Joint ownership allows two people to own the same policy, which can be beneficial in several ways. For example, joint ownership can help ensure that both parties are financially protected in case of the death of one of the policyholders.

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

The Annuity Expert is an online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. My goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning or find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates for you. 

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