Life insurance is a contract between the policy holder and the insurer, where the insurer promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money (the "benefits") upon the death of the insured person. Depending on the contract, other events such as terminal illness or critical illness may also trigger payment. In return, the policy holder agrees to pay a stipulated amount (the "premium") at regular intervals or in lump sums. In some countries, death expenses such as funerals are included in the premium; however, in the United States the predominant form simply specifies a lump sum to be paid on the insured's demise.
The value for the policy owner is the 'peace of mind' in knowing that the death of the insured person will not result in financial hardship.
Life policies are legal contracts and the terms of the contract describe the limitations of the insured events. Specific exclusions are often written into the contract to limit the liability of the insurer; common examples are claims relating to suicide, fraud, war, riot and civil commotion.
Life-based contracts tend to fall into two major categories: