What happens to health insurance when the policyholder dies?

4 min read

Death benefits for each type of policyholder

  • If you were a dependent on your loved one’s health insurance, you’ll need to take action after they die to continue coverage.

  • To extend benefits through COBRA, you must let your loved one’s employer know within 30 days of their death.

  • To get health coverage through ACA, you have to enroll within 60 days of your loved one’s death, or else you’ll have to wait until the next open enrollment period.

When a health insurance policyholder passes away, there can be confusion about what is going to happen next.

Most health insurance plans are meant to protect the health of an entire family. But when the policyholder dies, you’ll need to take steps to continue coverage for dependents, such as a surviving spouse and children.

Health coverage through COBRA

If your health insurance is through your loved one’s employer and you are a dependent on the plan, then you are protected for up to 36 months under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

During this time, you’ll be responsible for paying for the health coverage in its entirety—meaning you’ll have to pay the monthly premium your loved one paid as the policyholder, as well as the monthly amount that the company paid.

If you’d like to retain your loved one's benefits through COBRA, you must let their employer know within 30 days of their passing.

If you’d like to retain your loved one’s benefits in this way through COBRA—either for the full 36 months, or for the short term until you find a more affordable plan—you must let their employer know within 30 days of their passing.

Health coverage through ACA

If your loved one’s employer did not provide insurance for its workers or the health insurance they did offer wasn’t a fit for your family’s needs, your family is still eligible for coverage the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

In this scenario, your loved one’s death, because they were the policyholder, would be a qualifying life event (QLE). This would allow you to enroll at any time for a health insurance plan that works for you, as opposed to having to wait for open enrollment.

Keep in mind, this must be done within 60 days of your loved one’s death, or you will have to wait for the next open enrollment period. Until that period, you’ll be uninsured.

Canceling health insurance after a spouse or parent dies

How one cancels health insurance after a loved one dies has more to do with the type of insurance than anything else.

For example, if the policyholder had marketplace insurance, then it can be canceled by providing the appropriate documentation, such as the death certificate and any other documents that are required.

All of this should be sent to the department that takes care of health insurance coverage removal.

Private health insurance is canceled in a similar way, as proof of death and other documentation is necessary, but it can be done with a phone call to the insurance provider.

Insurance that was received through the policyholder’s employer can be canceled by letting their employer know that you will be opting out of the COBRA option, and they’ll remove your loved one from the company’s plan.

Canceling health insurance after death, although it does involve a mountain of paperwork, is straightforward. Granted, before going through with the cancellation, it’s important to have a back-up plan as to what health insurance you’ll be looking into getting.

Health insurance and death coverage

In some countries, health insurance includes a death benefit for surviving family. In the U.S., this is not the case—those kinds of funds are given to beneficiaries through life insurance.

Some employers, like those in the public or government sector, as well as unions, may offer health insurance packages with death benefits.

In addition to death benefits, these packages may also include accidental death and dismemberment benefits, expanded death benefits, or even survivor’s benefits. As to how much the next of kin will receive is dependent on the benefit or, if the death was on the job, what type of death (i.e., accidental or not) it was.

However, in general, health insurance doesn’t cover death. Instead, life insurance covers final expenses and related costs, and the estate will pay for any lingering medical bills as it’s all part of the remaining debt.

With these facts in mind, if you’re concerned about what’s going to happen to your family after you die if you’re the policyholder, make sure you have a talk with them about their possible options. Health care in the U.S. is extremely expensive and the last thing you want to do is leave your family without coverage or scrambling to get coverage should you pass away unexpectedly.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.