How much life insurance do I need

Ask An Expert

How much life insurance do I need?

Jason Conger Financial Advisor

Answered By

Katie Hetrick

Financial Consultant


How much life insurance do I need?


You know you need life insurance in order to protect your family when you are gone. They will have enough to deal with when you pass; they don’t need money added to that list.

But how much life insurance do you need? The simple answer is usually 10 to 12 times your annual income. But if that seems like too much, you can break it down using the DIME method.

D – Debt.

How much debt are you leaving behind? Make sure you have enough life insurance to pay it all off: credit cards, student loans, medical bills, whatever the debt may be.

I – Income.

You don’t want your spouse to be scrambling to replace the loss of your income while he or she is also mourning your loss. Make sure you have enough life insurance to cover your income for at least a few years while he or she adjusts to being gone. Stay-at-home parents, this would include the cost of paying someone to do all that you do for the household.

M – Mortgage.

You would hate for your family to have to move out of their home after you are gone because they can no longer afford the mortgage on it. If you have a mortgage on your home, make sure you have enough life insurance so that your family can pay it off with the proceeds.


If you have young children and you plan to help them afford college, make sure you have enough life insurance in order to do so.

If you take a look at your debt, income, mortgage, and education this will let you know how much life insurance you need in order to ensure that your family will be covered when you pass away. Let them be able to focus on mourning your passing and not be faced with a mountain of bills.

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless

My True Story as a Caregiver

Sharing Stories

My True Story:

” I am sharing my story and my why with you, hoping that it will have enough of an impact for you to react. The only thing you can ever be certain about is that life doesn’t play fair. Proper planning for the low probability, highly impactful events can alleviate a little uncertainty, provide peace of mind, and at the very least, ease some afflictions.” 
– Ashley Nichols
Self love hug as esteem and confidence for being woman tiny pers

We all have a story that creates our why. Our stories mold us, build our point of views and provide a foundation for us to decide what, in life, is valuable to us. We then create our lives around those values and beliefs. This is what we call being reactive, which isn’t necessarily bad. It allows us to be more creative, react to new ideas, and make decisions based on newly-received information. The problem is, all too often, most of us live with the notion that tragedy or misfortune does not or cannot happen to us. It happens to other people. Until it strikes home and we’re unprepared. I am sharing my story and my why with you, hoping that it will have enough of an impact for you to react. The only thing you can ever be certain about is that life doesn’t play fair. Proper planning for the low probability, highly impactful events can alleviate a little uncertainty, provide peace of mind, and at the very least, ease some afflictions.

I grew up in an average middle-class household in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of my parents worked full-time. My mother is a realtor, and my father was a Baccarat dealer for the better half of his career and then switched to Blackjack, or as he referred to it, Twenty-One. I grew up in a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with three sisters, a fish, a lizard, two love birds, a dog, a cat, and the occasional injured pigeon that my younger sister would bring home to nurse. We owned two family cars. By society’s standards of the word “normal,” we were that.

My parents did many things to raise the four of us that I admire; however, if I had to list one thing, it would be that their children never wanted for anything. Sure, there was the occasional bratty melt-down at the grocery store because they said no to buying the candy or ice cream we wanted or the brand-new Nikes that just came out that my mother (dad usually caved) would always say no to because our feet grew way too fast. But what kid doesn’t throw a fit when they don’t get their way!? Nonetheless, we participated in every sport we wanted to be in without question. Every birthday and Christmas list made in that house was, dare I say, happily fulfilled. The kids were happy, at least! I can’t speak to how my parents’ wallets felt afterward. But I can, without a doubt, tell you that they were grateful to have had the opportunity to afford us the kind of childhood that they, themselves, did not experience. We weren’t rich, we were merely comfortable, and my parents worked hard to ensure it stayed that way.

And then, as “normal” families do, my parents divorced when I was seventeen. My father suffered from COPD for a couple of years before the divorce and finally had a double lung transplant shortly after their divorce concluded. It was that pivotal moment in time; for the first time, I was able to see my parents as people. Often, we hold our parents on these pedestals and expect nothing less than perfection from them. They must keep it together at all times because…because we simply can’t see them in any other way. We forget they are also just people navigating life the best they know how. They experience trials and tribulations, sadness and defeat. And with that, I watched my father slip into a deep depression after the divorce and surgery and simultaneously watched my mother become a single parent. Because mentally, my father couldn’t be there consistently.

The crash of 2008 was soon upon us, and my mother’s career came to a sudden halt. This year had a significant impact on real estate agents, but real estate brokerages also suffered. The brokerage where my mother held her license decided to make a “cost” cut. That “cost” was my mother. The verbiage in her contract read that should she leave or be asked to leave the firm, the properties that she managed, even the ones she had procured on her own, were to stay with the firm. She was now a single mother left to build her business back from nothing in the middle of one of the largest economic downturns since the Great Depression. What did she have to fall back on? A small amount of savings kept in a regular savings account and credit cards. That was the extent of her financial planning.

…where my mother held her license decided to make a “cost” cut.

That “cost” was my mother.

On the other hand, my father was fortunate enough to keep his job and continue work. However, he dissolved his entire 401k in fear of the market crash. The one major rule that we instruct our clients to NEVER do is to pull out of the market when it’s down! Ergo, my father violated the number one rule of investing. Soon after, due to my father’s depression, health issues, and what we now know was the early onset of dementia, most likely not fully cognizant of what was happening at the time, the bank foreclosed on his property. By the time he told me what was happening, he had one week to move out. I frantically drove my dad around town, trying to find him an apartment to rent. Because of his now less than acceptable credit, I also had to co-sign for him on a new place. I then had 48 hours to rent a U-Haul, grab one of my sisters, and move as much of my father’s belongings as possible before his home was sold at auction. Needless to say, we didn’t get everything.

A few years passed that were seemingly ok. He still suffered from depression but was managing, or so I thought. One night, I received a call that would drastically change our lives. The hospital called to inform me that my dad had been in an accident. I rushed down to the hospital and was told that he was experiencing acute hyponatremia. Basically, his sodium levels were critically low, and it had most likely caused a seizure while he was driving. He had not been taking care of himself, had not been taking his anti-rejection medication required from his lung transplant, and drinking heavily. I also found out that his place of work had terminated him earlier that day for “strange behavior.” For those as unfamiliar as I was, he described it as a “fishbowl” like perception where nothing really makes sense. He simply couldn’t understand what was
happening because of his health.

The hospital discharged my dad, and at that point. He had no job to return to, and his dementia was progressing, forcing him to retire. He was 63. So here we were. After growing up in a household where money wasn’t an issue, it now seemed to be an issue. And how quickly and drastically things changed after that. I was now my father’s caretaker. At twenty-four, I sat at his dining room table, trying to navigate the dreaded Social Security/Medicare System. After waiting on hold for what felt like an eternity, I finally reached someone on the other line. Half listening to the customer service employee, I was finally able to ask the most crucial question, “How much will he be making?” My jaw near touched the floor when she responded, “Ralph will be making $1800 a month.” Suddenly the little light I thought I would be seeing at the end of this long dark tunnel disappeared. My father’s rent alone ate up half of his monthly benefit. That left $900 for groceries, medications (anti-rejection medication is not cheap), his car payment, car insurance, cell phone, utilities…I could go on, but I think you understand that it wasn’t nearly enough.

Anything he couldn’t afford, I made up for it. It was not easy, but he was my dad, and I would make sure that he was ok.

I remember sitting at that table feeling overwhelmed and helpless. It didn’t matter that my dad had consistently brought in $6000 a month or more while he was working. He would not be making that now, nor did he have an option of going back to work. He had no retirement, no savings; there was no coffee can hidden in a cupboard with a rainy day fund. Remember that 401k I told you about? Yea, that had been gone since 2008. Oh, and by the way, social security decided to stop paying him for six months at one point to add to everything else. I, still to this day, could not give you a comprehensible explanation for why the payments stopped, and neither could the social security department. What was even more incomprehensible to me was realizing that if my father didn’t have a family that he could lean on, he would have been homeless for at least six months. 

The question presented itself, how many other seniors have found themselves in my dad’s situation? By the grace of God, I was in a position where I was making enough money that I could help him. Anything he couldn’t afford, I made up for it. It was not easy, but he was my dad, and I would make sure that he was ok. I was pretty much my father’s supplemental income from there on out. As he aged and his health deteriorated more, I moved him into a senior 55 and older apartment complex. He was pushing 70 at this time. He was so mad at me for making him “live with “old” people”! My dad was funny and the comedic moments made things a little lighter, but as he aged, things got harder.

I got into law school and had to move away. I now would not work for one year. However, I still had to be my father’s supplemental income and caretaker. I would drive back and forth from San Diego to Las Vegas to take him to his doctor’s appointments; I had to find creative ways to remind him to take his medication, coordinate when groceries would be delivered to him, etc. I cannot tell you how we managed that, but again, we did it by the grace of God.

A few more years passed, and I continued to care for him. Then in November of 2019, a week before Thanksgiving, he suffered a stroke. His health never recouped after that, and I was forced to put him in a nursing home where he could be adequately cared for. He hated every minute of it, and so did I. The last thing you want for your parents is to take away their independence. His dementia worsened, his health diminished, and my father died after being taken to the hospital on June 23, 2020. He did not have life insurance. His funeral was the last thing I paid for.

My dad was my best friend. I don’t tell this story to make you feel sad or pity me. I love my parents dearly, and if I had to do it all over again, I would. I know they would have done the same for any of their children. The lack of financial planning doesn’t only create a problem for the individual; it also has a substantial impact on your loved ones. What if things were different? What if there was a savings plan, life insurance, disability insurance, and a financial strategy? What if my parents came across an article like the one you are reading now, and it created the awareness needed for them to react and realize that life, in fact, does not play fair? There are a lot of “what ifs,” and it’s my job to eliminate those what-ifs for my clients.

So, how do we make a plan? Everyone’s financial picture and overall goals are going to look different. However, where we start is pretty standard.


Get very clear about your balance sheet. Figure out what you own and what you owe. The number one answer I get as to why some don’t do this is, “I don’t make enough” or ” I don’t have enough.” You do not have to be raking it in to identify these two things. It is essential to know what you have. Once you have a clear picture of this, you can decide what you want your future balance sheet to look like. Then, identify short, mid, and long-term goals. It is critical to be very clear about how you want our money to work for you.


Identify what forms of asset protection you have in place and what you think you need. Think of asset protection as the roof over your balance sheet protecting what you are building. You wouldn’t have a house without a roof, so why should your balance sheet be any less protected? Umbrella insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and overall estate planning are some of the things you want to look for. Once you identify what you have, you can locate the holes you may have in your roof.


You want to identify what your cash flow looks like. How much are you bringing in for the year before taxes? Ideally, the goal is to save twenty percent of your gross income. Don’t worry if that number seems too large at first. Twenty percent is what we are working towards; it is not where we have to start. It is also not a hard cap. If you feel like you can and want to save more, that is a personal preference.


Create a budget sheet to know your fixed and variable costs each month. It is advantageous to see what you have left after your expenses. You can now identify where you might be overspending and what you might be able to cut back on.

These four steps may sound obvious and trivial, but they are crucial to creating an efficient financial plan. I have found disorganization to be the biggest proponent of stress and confusion, which leads to a paralysis of financial decision-making. A clear-cut picture of your net worth, protection, and cash flow can indicate where to pivot next.

We share our stories in hopes that they will impact others. I hope this article encourages you to act.



 Ashley Nichols J.D.

Ashley Nichols J.D.

Financial Planner

 In analyzing where my strengths lay and where I thought my time would be of most value, I realized that most are in need of financial planning and guidance. That is when I decided to pursue finance and is where my passion thrives. My responsibility as a financial representative is to ensure that my clients have an understanding of where they are today financially and to assist them in creating a roadmap of where they want to be, whether it be in the near future or long term. 

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless

Should I Consider Life Insurance for My Children?

Ask An Expert

Ask an Expert – Should I Consider Life Insurance for My Children?

Jason Conger Financial Advisor

Answered By

Roger Silvera

Financial Planner


Should I Consider Life Insurance for My Children?


Short Answer, Yes!

Life Insurance is a gift and in helping your children get their financial life off on the right foot. Life insurance can be a tremendous savings strategy for the long term. Besides the tax benefits of life insurance, consider provisions to help your child to protect their insurability in the event of an unforeseen circumstance. It’s vitally important to ensure you give your children the proper future – let’s start that today!

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless

How We LGBT Families Can Protect Our Loved Ones With Insurance

Purse Strings Approved Professional

Blog Series

How We LGBT Families Can Protect Our Loved Ones With Insurance.

This worked out fine for many of the young advisors because they were mostly white males. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work for me, a fully licensed 53-year-old lesbian. I would soon find out.

I had my introduction to Long Term Care planning when my sister and I started a Senior Move Company in Southern California. Like many small businesses, we aimed to build our company by attending networking events where we could meet other senior care providers. These events were often sponsored by Long Term Care facilities. Usually, there was some sort of educational presentation and the most common topic was Long Term Care. Intrigued by the information presented, I usually stayed after the event and asked questions about specific care concerns for the LGBT community. Over time, I was introduced to care professionals who specialized in LTC for LGBT and got a crash course on LTC planning for the community.

I became pretty obsessed with the whole topic of insurance so when I started working with a financial advisor she suggested that I get my insurance license so I could handle that side of her practice while she took care of the investments. Because of my background in training and coaching, she had this idea of us doing financial planning seminars and presentations. I liked the idea, so I jumped in and took the Life Insurance exam. Then, when I realized that insurance was only part of the full planning picture, I took the classes and obtained my securities license. That was not enough, I still wanted to get more training and wanted the help I needed to open my own practice. When Northwestern Mutual was there to offer me the opportunity, I took a leap of faith.

When I started working at Northwestern Mutual, my insurance education continued because Northwestern Mutual has products in all 3 lines, Life Insurance (LI), Disability Insurance (DI), and Long-Term Care (LTC). They made sure we knew how to incorporate insurance into a comprehensive plan. When I was doing the training, I put together a strategy to work with my community which is an intersection of dog owners, athletes, female and LGBT veterinarians. That plan worked fine until I moved into the office with the other advisors and started meeting with clients.

You see, these firms set you up by covering your training and expenses during the first couple of years. They also cover your insurance and securities license training and testing. In exchange, while studying and training, you are expected to work with senior advisors who can show you the ropes. And, of course, you get to split your commissions on the insurance until you are ready to go out on your own. Most of the rookies were in their 20’s and 30’s and many of the “senior advisors” were not that much older. This worked out fine for many of the young advisors because they were mostly white males. I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work for me, a fully licensed 53-year-old lesbian. I would soon find out.

On my very first day in the office, one of the assistants came up to me and asked me for my help. One of the senior advisors was working with an LGBT couple and one of them died. She was a bit beside herself because the whole insurance process with this couple and another couple was less than smooth. She asked me if I could step in and help. You could tell that the advisor and the client were not seeing eye-to-eye, so I ended up working face to face with the clients while the other advisor stayed out of the picture.

A week later, I had my second experience. A lesbian couple I knew was coming in for a meeting. Since this was one of the first meetings I had in the office, it was recommended that I have a senior advisor join me for the meeting. When the couple came into the office, I could feel the eyes watching us as we walked to one of the conference rooms. When the senior advisor joined us in the room, I could tell he thought they were not ideal prospects. My hunch was correct. After the meeting, he told me that I could handle this by myself.

A few days later, I received a referral from an estate planning attorney. She asked me to meet with a friend who was transgender. Her biggest concern was that I used the correct pronouns. After my last meeting, I was not planning on asking a senior advisor to join me, so instead, I approached three of them with a question that was not covered in training. “On the applications,” I asked, “what gender do I select?” I asked this because insurance is based on age, gender, and health. The first advisor said that “They must check the box that matches their birth certificate.” The second advisor said, “They must check the box that matches their driver’s license.” The last advisor said, “I wouldn’t know and quite frankly, I don’t ever think I would take a meeting with someone like that.”

Fortunately, I called the home office underwriters before I met with him and they said that they underwrite based on actual gender, not the gender assigned at birth. They also informed me that other insurance companies still go by gender on their birth certificate. What was interesting was when I went back and told the advisors what I found out. All three thanked me, but the third one added, “I still would never meet with him because I would be very uncomfortable and worried, I would say something wrong.”

People generally buy Life Insurance, Disability Insurance, and Long-Term Care Insurance in one of two ways. They look it up online or they get a referral from a friend. Some people who search online can get information but often end up on the site of a company that spends a lot on marketing. Referrals also can result in you sitting in front of a representative from a big insurance firm.

These companies can be fine if you are healthy and do not have a complex situation. The problem stems from the sales techniques that most advisors are taught. They are very scripted and are intended to find the prospects’ pain. It is done that way to shorten the sales cycle so they can close, get the sale, and move on to the next. That can work fine if you are just like the person on the other side of the table. But it is not easy when you meet with someone who doesn’t look like you or doesn’t understand your needs or values. It also doesn’t work when they rush or force the sale.

The process of obtaining Life, Disability, or Long-Term Care insurance is not the same as purchasing insurance for your car or home. You cannot go in, pick what you want, and have the insurance in your hand when you walk out. Nor would you want to because you want to make sure you get the right policy for your needs. What follows is the process you can expect.

Discovery or Fact-Finding

This is the beginning of the process where you and the advisor get to know each other and discuss what you hope to get out of working together. You talk about your needs, objectives, and goals. You also discuss your finances, lifestyle, health, and family history. Then taking all that information, the advisor does what is called field underwriting. That is, they take all the information and determine what type of insurance you can apply for and the best carriers (companies) for your situation.

This can be where the insurance process ends if something comes up that indicates you are not eligible to apply. For example, right now, if you had a COVID 19 test and were waiting for results, you would not be able to apply until you have completely received the results. This is also where I have seen LGBT turned away because the advisor does not understand how to deal with gender identity. Or they treat gender dysphoria or gender dysmorphia as mental illnesses that are uninsurable.

Once you determine that you can move forward, then the application must be completed. I recommend a trial application, meaning you do everything to complete the application except pay. It takes longer this way, but it does allow for more flexibility later. Many companies will ask you to pay at the time of application which puts the advisor in control of the situation, and it can lead to them choosing the variables based on the wrong assumptions. In fact, that first couple I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The senior advisor gave it to me because he assumed they were uninsurable. I am glad I did not listen because the one wanting to get insurance was healthy enough to get a policy.

I also recommend completing the application with the advisor so that you check the correct boxes and enter inaccurate information. The advisor can also help clarify questions you might have about parts of the application. Oftentimes, I have seen people put in information that was too heavy on details that were not necessary, too light on information where detail is needed or they omit things that end up showing up when medical records are checked. For example, I was once completing an application for a client who was taking Valium because she had muscle spasms in her back. She was worried that they would deny her because of that. But I assured her that if the doctor prescribed it, then they want to know you are taking it exactly as directed. Sure enough, she was approved without a problem. 


This is the part of the process where the underwriters go through all the information you entered on the application and compare against reports from your doctors, insurance companies, prescription records, driving records, and anything else that will help them determine if you are insurable. Some companies check credit especially if you are asking for large amounts of coverage. And if you apply for disability insurance, they will also want to see proof of income, taxes, and in some cases a breakdown of your work duties. If you are applying for Long Term Care, they will also ask you to complete a financial worksheet.

Over the years, the underwriting process has become accelerated and some insurance companies can get the information they need through the application and records. Others will require you to have a paramedical exam. A paramedical exam is where they do a blood draw, take a urine sample, and do a saliva test. Sometimes they also require an EKG (depending on your age and amount of insurance). This test is done by a third-party company and they will come out to your home or office. Many DI and LTC companies will call you and ask you the questions on the medical questionnaire.

The underwriting process can take a few days to a few months. Often, the insurance company will ask for additional records from a doctor or specialist you saw. And, in some cases, your medical provider may require you to fill out a form that will allow them to release records to the insurance company. I have run into some challenges where some providers will not release records because they feel it is confidential information. It is and any of the information they get is treated confidentially and only used to determine insurability. Plus, the exchange of information is done in a way where the health practitioners work directly with the insurance company. The agent or advisor does not get to see any of the records.

One question that does come up is preexisting conditions. Because they are looking at your total health picture, the concept of preexisting conditions is not the same as health insurance. They will be included when you are applying for personal Life, DI, and LTC. This can confuse people because the insurance you can get through your employer is group insurance and it is guaranteed issue. That means that no one is denied insurance based on their health or age.



Once the information is processed, the insurance company will come back with one of four decisions:


Approved as applied or better

Then you get to decide if you want to take their offer or modify it. You can usually only modify it in the direction that you take is less than what is offered. If you decide you want more, you must go back through underwriting. Occasionally, the insurance company may come back and offer more than what is on the application without going through underwriting. 





They will not offer you insurance. They will write a letter outlining their reasons. They will also send a letter to the advisor, however, on the advisor’s letter they will not outline the reasons for the decline if they determine it should be kept confidential.


 Approved with a rating or approval with a table rating.

This is where they come back and offer you a policy, but it may be less than what you want, or it will cost you more. This is called a rating and it happens when something comes up in your medical history that made insuring you more of a risk to the insurance company. They will write a letter explaining why they rated the policy. They sometimes will also reconsider a rating meaning that you have to start the policy at this rating and then in x many years you can come back and get retested to see if they can drop the rating.


  Decline with reconsideration

Sometimes, you will get a decline with the option to come back and apply after a specific number of years. We often see this with certain types of cancer.

With COVID-19 we are seeing a 5th option and that is postponement. Since they do not really know what effects COVID is having or what preexisting conditions are problematic, they are holding off for some decisions especially for older applicants.

Payment, Policy Issue and Delivery

When you agree upon and accept the final offer you will need to or pay your initial premium, before the policy will be issued and delivered to you. Depending on how much time you take to decide, you may have to declare that your health has not changed during the underwriting processed. Again, this is another area where you will want to keep in close communication with your advisor.

Service and Claims

The time after the sale is when having an advisor service your policy is most important for LGBT. Even if you bought your policy online or from another advisor it is in your best interest to have an advisor that helps you with your insurance policies. Unfortunately, this is usually the time when many advisors disappear. Some leave the industry or only call you to do some other planning with them.

Life does not stop after you put the insurance in place. People get married, divorced, promoted, become unemployed, or have some other life event. When change happens, your advisor needs to know so they can make sure that your policy will still work for you. If you move to a new state, you need to make sure your advisor is licensed in that state. If you go through a divorce, you may have to keep the policy as part of the divorce decree. If you lose your job or have a financial situation, you will want to contact your advisor before you cancel the policy or stop paying the premiums. In fact, during COVID-19, insurance companies are working with the policyholders and some are not canceling them for nonpayment. But if you call and say you want to cancel then they will follow your wishes. I had one client who canceled their policy in January and then called me to see if they could get it back in June. It was too late by the time they called.

The most important time to have a trusted relationship with your advisor is when it comes to a claim. In fact, it is also a good idea to introduce your spouse, family or whomever you are going to have act as your Power Of Attorney meet your advisor, even if it just for a phone call, shortly after the policy is purchased or you have a change. Chances are you are not going to be the one filing the claim. You don’t want the first time your family meets your advisor is when you go on claim.

Life Insurance, Disability Insurance and Long-Term Care Insurance can be an integral part of a solid financial plan, especially for LGBT families. But you have to trust that the advisor you work with will help you find, what you want, what you need, what you can afford and what you can get approved. They also need to give you options in case you cannot get the type of coverage you want or need. It is helpful to work with someone who is an expert in working with someone like you.


Disclosure: Guarantees are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurer.

*Registered Representative, Securities offered through Registered Representatives of Cambridge Investment Research, Inc., a broker-dealer, member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisor Representative, Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Adviser. Finity Group, LLC and Cambridge are not affiliated.

Peggy Haslach, CFP®,CLU

Peggy Haslach, CFP®,CLU

Financial Advisor

As an athlete, trainer, and coach, Peggy uses a coach’s approach with her clients. She knows how to inspire women to take control of their financial plan. he works collaboratively with her client’s other advisors (CPAs, Attorneys, Mortgage Brokers, etc.) to put together a plan where her clients can make and manage their own money, live the lifestyle they want today, and feel confident about their tomorrow.

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless

Do Stay-at-home Moms Really Need Life Insurance?

Purse Strings Approved Professional

Blog Series

Do Stay-at-home Moms Really Need Life Insurance?

He scoffed at me and said, ‘No, she doesn’t earn any money!’ I was really surprised by this, given how busy she was and how many responsibilities fell to her.

Years ago I got into an argument with a friend. He was a high-income lawyer whose wife had taken a break in her career to take care of their four kids. I asked if they had life insurance on her. He scoffed at me and said, “No, she doesn’t earn any money!” I was really surprised by this, given how busy she was and how many responsibilities fell to her.

After 23 years as a financial advisor and licensed insurance agent, I’m no longer surprised. I know how common his opinion is. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince him that buying life insurance on his wife was worth it. Today I hope I can convince you.

Too many people believe life insurance is only needed on breadwinners.

Why does anyone need life insurance?

I always say as soon as another person is dependent on you, you should think about getting some insurance. Most calculators designed to help you decide how much you need start with the question, how much do you make?

The idea is that if the breadwinner, let’s call him dad, were to die and thus his income stopped, the death benefit would provide money the family could use to pay their bills.

I totally agree the breadwinner needs to have life insurance – probably much more than they do right now. But even if dad has millions of dollars of coverage, that still leaves a big hole in the family risk management. Tying life insurance need to income perpetuates the myth that women’s unpaid work has no value. The perspective of the insurance needs calculators is not really surprising when you think about it. Raising children and caregiving in general is vital work to our society. And yet, although our culture claims to value family, such work is consistently undervalued. It is evident in the low wages of teachers, childcare workers and healthcare aides.

Money is an interesting thing. It is important to survival because it’s how we get the things we need – both our most basic needs and the things that make life more enjoyable – often we get the priorities flipped. We tend to value things based on their price tag. It’s a type of mental short cut we use, sometimes without realizing it. A $70 bottle of wine must be much better than a $17 bottle, right?

So, if a mother’s work in the home is unpaid, does it really have any value? Of course it does, it’s just a bit invisible. A study by valued stay-at-home-moms’ work at a median salary of $178,000 per year!

An analysis from Oxfam in 2020 reported that unpaid work by women in the U.S. would be worth $1.5 trillion in 2019, using minimum wage per hour for its calculations. And I would argue that moms should make much more than minimum wage!
And yet there’s no paycheck, no dollars coming into the bank account for all the hours we moms work. No visual or tangible representation of the crucial value of what we do, which makes it easy to overlook in the broader financial plan for the family.

What would it cost to replace all the work done by a mom who dies prematurely?

Now let’s imagine the non-working spouse, let’s call her mom, is tragically out of the picture. Obviously, the family will be devastated – the emotional cost of losing a parent is real and lasting. But let’s look at the practical day-to-day impacts. Who will step up to do all the jobs a mom fills in a day, a month, a year? It’s a big list, as we know.

  • Childcare worker
  • Cook
  • Housekeeper
  • Laundress
  • Driver
  • Shopper for food, clothing, and everything else
  • Coordinator of kid schedules and activities
  • Supervisor of school expectations and homework
  • Healthcare manager, scheduling and driving to doctor, dentist and wellness appointments
  • Bookkeeper and bill payor
  • Travel and event planner
  • Communications specialist
  • And probably 12-25 others I’ve forgotten!

One person had been doing all this. And now she’s gone. Is it realistic to think that the remaining members of the family can or will step up to do all of the jobs? That would be tough, especially if the kids are young. Dad may be working long hours to keep up his income.

Unless extended family steps in, most likely they’re not going to find someone to do it all for free. So, they’ll need to pay – probably more than one person. This of course increases the expenses of the household, with same income. And let’s face it, most American families don’t have much wiggle room in their cash flow already. 

What would life insurance enable?

Let’s imagine again that mom is suddenly gone. But this time a large check arrives in the mail a few weeks later. Everyone is devastated. Life will never be the same. And, there’s a pot of money available to help with the logistical issues.
Now it wouldn’t be such a stretch to pay someone to do some or all of mom’s jobs.
If dad wanted to cut back on work in order to do some of the home tasks himself, there would be money to replace his reduction of income. Or the insurance check could be used to pay off the mortgage and fund college savings accounts, which in turn allows dad to work less.

It’s possible that the stress on family members will increase costs for mental health and/or wellness services. Money in the bank means they wouldn’t have to deny themselves care.

One friend of mine took his kids out of school on a giant trip, and even hired a tutor to go with them so the boys could keep up with school, after the tragic death of his wife. After witnessing and caring for her long and painful illness, he decided this would be a balm and a bonding experience for them.

God forbid both parents die, having insurance on mom as well as dad means more assets to whoever steps into the custodian/caregiver role for the children. That is a huge obligation for someone to take on, and of course, you’ll want to ease the financial burden on whomever is looking after your precious babies.

As always, money allows choices, options, and flexibility. Money is NOT a cure-all for the situation. It never is. But having life insurance on mom can avoid piling a financial disaster on top of the emotional one.

How much insurance do you need?

How much insurance should you have? Probably a number that sounds really big. The answer, as with so many things around money, is “it depends.” What do you want the money to enable if, God forbid, you were gone? Here are some ideas on how to answer the question:

Goal 1

Provide funds to pay for one or more service providers.

Do some research on what services cost in your area. Don’t assume family will do everything. Bad things can happen to them as well – illness, disability, moving for work, passing away. Maybe your calculation looks something like this:

  • House cleaning once a week +
  • Driving 1 hour per weekday +
  • Tutoring 3 hours a week +
  • Food delivery 3 nights a week =  $XX/month

Let’s say that totals up to $2,400/month x 12 months per year = $28,800 per year.

For how many years would you need these services?

Goal 2

Pay off the mortgage to relieve that monthly expense.

How much do you owe on the house? What is the annual bill for taxes, insurance and maintenance?

Goal 3

Fund the college savings accounts

What type of school would you like your kids to attend, and how much of the bill do you want to cover? Then you can use a calculator like this one to come up with a number.

You can see how the numbers add up quickly. The really short answer is, it’s hard to have too much. Most people have too little. (By the way, while you’re doing this exercise, make sure to look at how much you have on your breadwinner spouse as well! It may be time for a top-up.)

Possible Hurdles:

Isn’t insurance expensive?

Actually, no. Here’s how to think about it. The purpose of insurance is risk management. It should address a possible event that may be unlikely but would be financially devastating.

We have homeowner’s insurance in case of a house fire or a tree falling through the roof. Because it would be really expensive to repair or replace our house, we pay a more modest annual cost so the insurance company would help us pay for those needs, should they arise.

The idea is, for a small known cost today, you avoid an enormous possible cost in the future. Life insurance fills a similar role. As with all insurance, of course, we hope you never have to use it. But having it in place is the responsible thing to do – like having seatbelts and airbags, or childproofing your home.

My spouse and I don’t like to talk about this stuff!

Money is a common cause of stress and friction in marriages. Know that it’s normal! And you want to find a way to talk about it anyway.
On top of that, we humans don’t like thinking about our own mortality or possible disaster scenarios. Many of us end up avoiding actions like getting our will written and buying life insurance. (Go get your will done if you haven’t!!)

Try to take emotion out of it by focusing on the numbers and the financial risk. Hopefully, this article can help.





Think through what it would take to replace all the unpaid work you do for your family.

Be sure you’re talking regularly with your spouse about money and finances. One piece of that conversation should be disaster preparedness. Just like you stock up on food and supplies before a storm, know what you have in place in case disaster should strike. As you talk about the potential bad scenarios, include “what if one of us passes away?”

Money is not an end in itself. It is a tool that enables us to meet our needs and build the lives we want to live for ourselves and our families. If suddenly you were no longer here, wouldn’t you want choices, options, and flexibility for your family? 

Stephanie McCullough

Stephanie McCullough

Founder & Financial Planner

Our focus is working with women 45+ who are facing a financial future on their own and are looking for a true partner in money decision-making. I help professional women reduce financial stress by aligning their money story with their deepest-held values. I am a non-judgmental financial advisor. My team and I work hard to create a safe space to have the intimate conversations necessary. Since money touches all the most important parts of our lives, we have to talk about it all before we can decide what you should do with your dollars.

We will provide you useful and timely information you can use to be #financiallyfearless