All About Life Insurance Beneficiaries

There are several types and classes of  life insurance beneficiaries and I’m going to do my best to explain each clearly and in an understandable way. There are three main types that you should understand as this is a very important part of your insurance contract.

Primary beneficiaries have the first claim to the proceeds of the life policy following the death of the insured. The owner of the policy (policyowner) may specify more than one primary beneficiary and how the proceeds are divided between each. There is no limit to the number of people that can be listed so if you have 5 children, list them all and tell the insurance company exactly how you want the money divided.

Secondary beneficiaries which are commonly know as, contingent beneficiaries have the second claim IF the primary dies BEFORE the person that is insured does. Contingent beneficiaries do not receive any proceeds from the death of the insured if the primary is still living. Many people make the mistake of listing a secondary beneficiary assuming that the money will be divided between the primary and secondary. This is obviously incorrect.

Tertiary beneficiaries, less commonly known are third in line and receive proceeds if the primary and secondary have predeceased the insured.

If none of the beneficiaries are still living at the time of the insured’s death or if no beneficiary was specified in the policy,  the proceeds will be paid to the insured’s estate (liabilities and assets left by the insured), automatically.

Beneficiary designations can be either revocable or irrevocable. The owner of the policy may change a revocable beneficiary without the beneficiary’s consent. An irrevocable beneficiary is one that once listed in the policy, cannot be changed without the beneficiary’s consent.

Per Capita and Per Stirpes are class designations used to cite a particular grouping to be beneficiary. This is commonly referred to as “all my children”.  When applying for life insurance it’s very important to specifically specify exactly how you want the proceeds of the policy to be divided to prevent any conflict that may arise after your death and to be sure that your final wishes are executed as desired.

Per Capita, which means “by the head”, distributes the proceeds evenly amond living named persons in the policy. Per Stirpes, with means “by the bloodline”, distributes benefits of a beneficiary that died before the insured’s heirs.

Policyowners can change beneficiaries at will unless a person has been listed as being irrevocable.

There are many types of insurance policies to choose from and it’s always best to make sure that you know what you’re getting into. Comparing the details of policies from different companies, side by side, is the best way to make certain that you are getting the fair end of the bargain and that your beneficiaries can be listed without restriction. is a free tool that you can use to instantly compare life insurance quotes from the nation’s top insurers.

Christy Love is a retired life insurance agent with over 30 years of experience in helping people protect what matters most… their families. As an expert author, Christy enjoys sharing her knowledge of life insurance with the online community.

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