What Happens If a Life Insurance Company Goes Bankrupt?

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

A growing concern in our society needs addressing, especially for those who have put their trust in life insurance companies: What happens if a life insurance company goes bankrupt? Can they go bankrupt at all? Let’s delve into the mechanics of this often-overlooked but crucial issue and provide comprehensive answers to these critical questions.

Do Life Insurance Companies Ever Go Bankrupt?

First and foremost, let’s get one thing straight. Yes, life insurance companies can go bankrupt like any other business entity. It’s rare, but it happens. While it might send shivers down your spine, this is a reality that policyholders should be aware of. Economic downturns, poor management, or a sudden surge in policy claims can put insurance companies in financial trouble.

For instance, during the 2008 financial crisis, many insurance companies faced severe hardships due to market instability. While most managed to bounce back, some could not withstand the turmoil and had to shut down their operations.

Life Insurance Company Goes Bankrupt

What Happens If a Life Insurance Company Goes Bankrupt?

Let’s navigate toward the primary concern – what happens when an insurance company declares bankruptcy?

First, when an insurance company goes bankrupt, it’s called “insolvency.” When this happens, several protective measures are triggered to safeguard policyholder interests. These measures depend on the severity of the insolvency and are governed by state insurance departments and guaranty associations.


In less severe cases, the state insurance department intervenes and attempts to rehabilitate the company, which involves restructuring its debts and operations.

For example, in the early 1990s, Mutual Benefit Life, once the nation’s 18th largest life insurer, was declared insolvent. However, under the supervision of the New Jersey Department of Insurance, the company went through a rehabilitation process and eventually resumed paying claims to its policyholders.


In more extreme cases, the company is liquidated if rehabilitation isn’t possible. The company’s assets are sold off to pay as many claims as possible.

State Guaranty Associations

Thankfully, policyholders are not left high and dry even in insolvency situations. State guaranty associations protect policyholders when insurance companies cannot meet their obligations. While varying by state, these associations generally cover a certain amount of the policy’s value to ensure beneficiaries are not left empty-handed.

For example, Executive Life Insurance Company went bankrupt in 1991 due to bad investments. In response, state guaranty associations took charge, providing continued coverage and benefits to policyholders.

What Happens If A Life Insurance Company Goes Bankrupt

How Many Life Insurance Companies Have Gone Out of Business?

While insolvency instances are infrequent, several life insurance companies have quit. Between 1991 and 2010, around 80 life and health insurance companies went bankrupt, according to the National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guaranty Associations.

Notably, most of these companies were smaller, less diverse insurers, and not all cases resulted in losses for policyholders. Larger, more diverse companies are more resilient due to a broader risk spread.

Next Steps

In the unsettling event of a life insurance company going bankrupt, it’s comforting to know that protective measures are in place. The insurance industry has weathered many storms, and even in the unlikely event of insolvency, state-backed mechanisms like rehabilitation, liquidation, and guaranty associations work to ensure you, as a policyholder, do not bear the brunt of the financial fallout.

Life Insurance Company Goes Bankrupt

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do life insurance companies ever go bankrupt?

Your life insurance policy is usually safe from bankruptcy, even if the insurance company were to become bankrupt. Such situations are infrequent, but knowing that the Life and Health Insurance Guaranty System (NOLHGA) and the Financial Crisis of 2008-2009 have both confirmed this is reassuring.

What happens if my life insurance company goes under?

The state guaranty association and the fund can assist if an insurance company can’t pay its debts. They may transfer the policies to a different insurance company or offer coverage directly to policyholders.

Can a life insurance company shut down?

While it’s rare, insurance companies can sometimes fail for various reasons, causing issues for their policyholders. But you have protection in place. If an insurer goes bankrupt, your state’s guaranty association will step in to help.

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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