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Is insurance only for those in paid work?

Does someone not earning an income need personal insurance cover? We believe they do.

Your ability to earn an income is your greatest asset, and as such should be well insured. However, in certain of periods of life there may be a spouse who is not in paid employment – this doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t have insurance.

Why both spouses need personal insurance cover

While unpaid work is often undervalued it contributes enormously to a household in different ways, and the very real financial ramifications of a non-working spouse being taken out of action are only one part of the picture.

Let’s look at a fictional couple, Vic and Kelly, in their late thirties with three school aged children. Vic works fulltime and Kelly works part time as a teacher aide, so she can be home after school and in the school holidays.

To understand why Kelly should have cover, even though she is on a low income, let’s imagine what would happen if she was diagnosed with cancer.

  • Vic will have to take time off from work

If it is terminal cancer he is going to want to spend as much time as possible with Kelly and the children. If it isn’t a terminal illness, life will be turned upside down with treatments for at least a year. Depending on where they live these treatments may be a considerable distance from home.

Vic will need to take time off work to care for his wife and even when he can work, he may need to reduce his hours to care for the children when they are out of school. He has income protection, but it only covers him being unable to work if something happening to him, not his spouse.

So right away the family has lost or reduced their income at a time when they are going through some major stress.

  • Covering Kelly’s unpaid labour

If Vic is going to be looking after Kelly, who is looking after the children?

We had a client muse that they needed more cover for the stay-at-home wife than the self-employed husband as he would need to employ a nanny, cook, cleaner, PA and accountant to cover her absence.

Jokes aside, it is important to have a thorough discussion about the ramifications of the primary caregiver being out of action, and looking at different scenarios. Family and friends may be able to provide some support but, depending on your circumstances, you may need to look at paying someone to help.

  • Unexpected additional costs

Luckily for the family, in New Zealand the medical treatment is free. However, supporting Kelly through this time and caring for the family’s needs can throw up some new expenses – at a time when the household income has already been reduced.

This could include accommodation and travel if treatment is far from home and after school care or school holiday programs for the children. Kelly’s treatment will make her immune system vulnerable – if one of the children comes home from school with a virus she may need to go and stay in a hotel.

Added to the emotional trauma of the illness itself, this financial stress could make life much more difficult for the family.

So how do you mitigate the risk?

The easiest and most cost-effective way to cover someone who does not have an income, or has a low income, is by bolstering their trauma cover. While children are automatically covered on most trauma policies spouses are not, so each must have their own.

Trauma protection is a personal cover providing a lump sum payment in the event of a diagnosis of certain illnesses or if you experience specified injuries. Different providers have slightly different lists of illnesses or injuries, but all include cancer, heart attack and stroke. Injuries can include head trauma, burns or time spent in intensive care.

One of the benefits of trauma protection is you can use the lump sum pay-out however you see fit – such as reducing debt, covering living expenses, paying for alternative treatments or a holiday to recuperate.

You may be surprised at how little it can cost – $100,000 of trauma cover for our fictional Kelly would be less than $20 a month.

Talking to an adviser about your current life stage is the best way to make sure your family has the best level of cover you can afford when you need it. Take the time to discuss how much income each spouse would need if the other was unwell, or no longer around.

There are some income protection policies that include cover for a dependent relative, which is another good reason to talk to your adviser when choosing the cover that is right for you.

Need to talk about protecting your family? Call one of our advisers.

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