There are many misconceptions about whether life insurance companies will pay benefits when someone dies from a drug overdose. There is not a definite "yes or no" in response to this question — the answer, as with most insurance issues, is, "it depends."
Life insurance policies often cover deaths caused by a drug overdose, but it will depend on how the overdose occurred and the policy's exclusions. Individual insurance plans often include more exclusions than group life insurance.
One crucial element of an individual insurance policy is the contestability clause. This period usually includes the first two years a policy is in force when an insurer can contest or deny claims for various reasons.
During this period, if you were to die from a drug overdose, the insurer is more likely to deny your claim than after the contestability period is over. At that point, insurers can only contest claims in very serious matters, like a fraudulent application.
If you accidentally ingest too much prescription medication and die, your policy will likely cover your beneficiaries' claim. There are a few notable exceptions, however.
First, the policy may not honor the claim if you did not disclose the medications and why you were taking them when you bought the insurance.
Second, if you die soon after the policy goes into force (the contestability period), the insurer will likely investigate whether the overdose was intentional. In these cases, the insurer and beneficiaries may need to testify in court and resolve the issue with a judge or mediator.
When an insurer works to determine if an overdose death was accidental, they may examine the coroner's report. Common causes of accidental death that coroners are likely to list as unintentional drug overdose deaths include:
Accidental ingestion of the drug
Unintentional ingestion of too much of the drug
The drug was given in error by someone else
A medical professional accidentally administered too much of the drug
Someone purposefully harmed the person by forcing or tricking them into ingesting the drug
The situation becomes more complicated if you die from an illegal drug overdose. If the overdose occurs during the contestability period, the insurer will likely deny the claim. Though the contestability period typically focuses on suicide, "death during illegal acts" are often explicitly excluded.
An insurer might cover a death caused by an illegal drug overdose if you disclosed related information. For example, if you attended a drug treatment program or receive ongoing care related to addiction, your policy may pay out.
However, if the policy explicitly excludes dangerous or illegal activities, this kind of disclosure is unlikely to help. Insurers typically deny claims when these exclusions apply.
The coroner's report can come into play here, as well. The report should indicate what the drug or drugs were that caused the overdose, including illegal drugs.
Insurers usually consider intentional drug overdoses as suicides when determining whether they will pay a life insurance claim. Suicide is not a reason in and of itself for an insurance company to deny a claim. This is a common misconception. Suicide does complicate the claim, however, and make it more likely the insurer will deny it.
Individual life insurance plans often cover suicide if it happens after the policy's suicide clause and contestability provision have expired. The suicide period is usually in the range of two to three years after the insurer issued the policy, and can coincide with the contestability provision.
If you were to commit suicide when the suicide clause is still in effect, the insurer would almost certainly negate the policy and deny your beneficiary's claim. Insurers include suicide clauses to prevent a situation where someone purchases an insurance plan with the intention of committing suicide, assuming their family would receive the payout.
Employer-paid group life insurance policies cover suicides, including intentional drug overdoses, differently than an individual policy. When your employer pays for your entire group life insurance premium, the policy will usually cover suicide with no restrictions during the first two years. Supplemental life insurance you purchase through your employer will likely include a suicide or contestability clause, much like an individual life insurance plan.
Life insurance issued to military members through the Veterans Affairs agency usually covers drug overdose suicide claims. This includes Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) and Servicemember Group Life Insurance (SGLI), as these policies have no contestability period or suicide clause.
The number one thing you can do to help ensure an insurer will pay the claim if you die from a drug overdose, intentional or not, is to fill out your application honestly. Your odds of being rejected altogether may go up if you disclose information about drug addiction.
However, if you provide false information on the application, there's a good chance your beneficiary won't receive your life insurance benefit. You'll need to answer questions and disclose information about a variety of difficult topics. Many life insurance applications ask about:
A history of suicidal thoughts
Past suicidal attempts
Mental illness diagnoses
Drug and alcohol use and abuse
Drug and alcohol programs you've completed
Prescription medications you're taking or have taken in the past
Participation in risky activities, including illegal hazardous activities like consuming illegal drugs
You may need to supply documentation to support your answers.
While your disclosures can cause the insurer to reject your application, they may offer a plan with a lower death benefit or higher premiums. The insurer might also add exclusions to the policy related to suicide and drug use.
Suppose you decide to take the gamble and skip these disclosures. In that case, the insurer is much more likely to deny your beneficiary's life insurance claim if your death is related to dangerous activities or suicide.
Be sure to provide your beneficiaries with copies of your life insurance plan and go over the terms with them. This will give you and your beneficiaries some peace of mind and a chance to discuss anything confusing.
Sometimes, an insurance company denies a life insurance claim because of a drug overdose during the contestability or suicide waiting periods. In these cases, the insurer usually reviews information listed in police reports or a medical examiner's opinion on the cause of death.
Occasionally, a life insurance company will deny a claim after carrying out an independent investigation. In these cases, the insurer examines information like:
Medical and mental health history
Evidence of drug or alcohol abuse
Potential suicidal notes
In these cases, the insurance company may reach out to your friends, family, and witnesses who were present at the time of death. These parties could be interviewed about your past behavior and mental state around the time of death.
If they disagree with the insurer's decision, beneficiaries can contest insurance decisions through the claims process at the insurance company or through legal action. This often happens when an overdose death involves prescription medication.
In some states, there are laws aimed at protecting beneficiaries from suicide clauses. These laws could include a limit on the length of clauses or preventing insurers from adding suicide clauses to changed policies.
If you aren't sure whether your life insurance policy covers drug overdoses, look for clauses like these:
"No benefits will be paid for any loss or covered injury that: occurs as a consequence of being intoxicated or as a consequence of taking, using or being under the influence of any narcotic unless administered on the advice of a physician."
"No benefits will be paid for accidental death benefits when death occurs as the result of taking drugs or medications not prescribed to the decedent, or when taking them against prescribed orders."
"In no event will we pay a benefit where loss or injury is caused directly or indirectly by, results from, or there is contribution from, any of the following: motor vehicle collision or accident where you are the operator of the motor vehicle and your blood level meets or exceeds the level at which intoxication by drugs or alcohol is defined in the state where the collision or accident occurred, regardless of the outcome of any legal proceedings connected thereto."
It is not uncommon for insurers to fight life insurance claims involving drug overdoses. However, in many cases, insurers do pay death benefits in the event of accidental and even intentional drug overdoses.
Be sure to disclose information about any issues you've had with drug addiction, mental health, and dangerous or illegal activity. Failing to do so can lead to a denied claim. It is critical to read through your plan carefully and to share copies of it with the beneficiary or beneficiaries.
Find the life insurance plan that's right for you in three easy steps at PolicyScout.