Your Life Insurance Company Says Your Loved One Was a Smoker, but They Were Not! When Does A Life Insurance Company Consider Someone to be a Smoker? When the life insurance application asks if you are a smoker, what exactly does that mean to an ordinary person, and to a life insurance company? What is the generally accepted definition of a “smoker”?
An ordinary person may consider himself to be a non-smoker, because he only smokes a few cigarettes on the weekend. In his own mind, the fact that he doesn’t smoke Monday through Friday, means he is a non-smoker.
The application should ask how much, how often, and how many years the policy applicant has smoked. One cigarette after dinner occasionally does not make one a smoker. Vague and unclear questions are naturally vulnerable to different meanings at different times. Some life insurance companies may try to maximize the smoking issue to avoid paying on a policy, even using it as a ground for rescission and denial of the payment.
When Does A Life Insurance Company Consider Someone to be a Smoker?
Unless a life insurance company is much more specific in its questioning, the common meaning of the term smoking should prevail. Only when the life insurance begins to ask much more specific questions, such as “have you used any tobacco products in the last twelve months”, does this become a more narrow factual question.
According to Nerdwallet, “Under Mutual of Omaha’s life insurance guidelines, meanwhile, you qualify for the best rates if you haven’t used tobacco or nicotine products for three years. For the next-best category, you must have abstained for two years, and for the third best, one year. For all three of those categories, you can smoke up to one cigar a month and qualify as long as the lab test comes back clean. For the next rung down — standard nonsmoker — some applicants who occasionally smoke marijuana may qualify, as long as they haven’t used tobacco for 12 months.”
To Some Life Insurance Companies, Any Tobacco Use Makes You a Smoker
The fact of any smoking by a life insurance policy holder is subject to further policy “rating”, but this is often not made clear on applications and questionnaires.
To a life insurance company, especially when reviewing a claim made within the first two years of a policy (the contestability period), any use of any tobacco within some prior time period, may mean that the person is a smoker, even if no ordinary person would ever consider the person to be a smoker.
This is a clear violation of the rule that legal documents must use terms in their ordinary, common sense, or if a specific meaning is intended with the term, a clear definition of that special meaning, and indication of the use of the special meaning, has to be involved.
However – a smoker can’t hide smoking in an application – that would fall into the category of misrepresentation.
Usually, any sign of mild tobacco use will be eliminated from a test result after a week anyway–but would a life insurance company still call that person a smoker? Many life insurance policies will allow limited use of cigars, such as a dozen cigars a year, but the smoking of more cigars would probably label someone as a smoker.
Did your loved one’s life insurance company test for smoking?
- If a life insurance company actually cares about whether its applicants are smokers, they can easily test for nicotine.
- A blood test can show nicotine in a person’s blood up to three days since any tobacco use.
- The life insurance company can test for cotinine, which is related to nicotine and stays in a person’s system much longer.
- Urine tests are even more sensitive for smoking than blood tests.
A life insurance company can easily adjust the policy rating and costs for a smoker. Especially for a younger person, smoking is not as big an actuarial negative, because that person may quit, and because many illnesses from heavy smoking take many years to develop.
Any life insurance company that seeks to have people misunderstand questions, by asking confusing questions or using words in a very particular and uncommon way, should not expect that it will get away from paying policies for people who have sadly passed away too soon.
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