Term life insurance provides coverage at a fixed cost, which adjusts after a predetermined period of time, i.e. the relevant term. After that period expires, coverage at the previous rate of premiums is no longer guaranteed and the client must either forgo coverage or potentially obtain further coverage with different payments or conditions. If the life insured dies during the term, the death benefit will be paid to the beneficiary. Term insurance is the least expensive way to purchase a substantial death benefit on a coverage amount per premium dollar basis over a specific period of time.
Term life insurance can be contrasted to permanent life insurance such as whole life, universal life, and variable universal life, which guarantee coverage at fixed premiums for the lifetime of the covered individual unless the policy owner allows the policy to lapse. Term insurance is not generally used for estate planning needs or charitable giving strategies but is used for pure income replacement needs for an individual.
Term insurance functions in a manner similar to most other types of insurance in that it satisfies claims against what is insured if the premiums are up to date and the contract has not expired and does not provide for a return of premium dollars if no claims are filed. As an example, auto insurance will satisfy claims against the insured in the event of an accident and a homeowner policy will satisfy claims against the home if it is damaged or destroyed by, for example, a fire. Whether or not these events will occur is uncertain. If the policyholder discontinues coverage because he has sold the insured car or home, the insurance company will not refund the full premium. This is purely risk protection.