Putting terminal illness at the forefront of the life cover conversation.
Former Director, Underwriting & Claims Strategy

Terminal illness is a common cause of claim under a life policy. From my experience, I would say for some portfolios around one in 10 claims can be for terminal illness, so it’s an important aspect of cover.

The money gives you choices. Do you work as long? Do you go on holiday? Do you do something you’ve always wanted to do?

So, it’s important that, with terminal illness claims being relatively common, you recommend the best definition you can to your clients.

What we’re doing differently

There have been difficulties in the market in paying terminal illness claims, particularly for people who have late-stage cancers. Although the cancers are terminal, it can be difficult to predict life expectancy so doctors are reluctant to do so. Meaning some people with incurable stage 4 cancer are not getting their pay out until the Consultant can confirm they have less than 12 months to live.

When you consider 20% of cancers are diagnosed at stage 41, this is no small problem.

When you consider 20% of cancers are diagnosed at stage 4, this is no small problem.

There are other conditions that are not curable, such as motor neurone disease, which typically have a life expectancy of 2 or 3 years. In these cases, we don’t think we should be looking at the fact you have 2 or 3 years to live. We should be focused on the fact that you're living with significant disability so we should pay out.

This is why our Terminal Illness cover goes further than the others. Our Life Protection does pay out if your clients only have twelve months life expectancy. But if your clients are diagnosed with incurable stage 4 cancer, Parkinson-plus syndromes, motor neurone disease or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease we also guarantee to pay out even if your clients are expected to survive longer than 12 months.

It’s not easy to say to someone with a terminal illness and say ‘Look, you’re not sure how long you have to live but to get a pay out you should only have 12 months’, so we don’t do that. At Guardian, we pay these claims.

Talk to your clients about terminal illness

Advisers need to consider the reason someone’s buying life insurance. If they’re buying it to cover inheritance tax, then whether there's a great terminal illness definition or not may not be relevant. For everybody else in the protection world – for example, those covering a mortgage – it’s really important to talk about the fact you may get an earlier pay out if you are terminally ill.

Discover more about our terminal illness definition and register at


  1. Cancer incidence by stage at diagnosis, Cancer Research UK, 15 February 2017

Julie retired in October 2020 after 50 years’ in the industry. As a founding member of Guardian, she will always be part of our team. We continue to share this blog with her permission.