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Single or joint life insurance – which is better?

There are different ways to set up a life insurance policy. In this guide we take a look at single vs joint life insurance and what to consider when choosing between the two.

What’s the difference between single and joint life insurance?

Life insurance gives your loved ones a lump sum when you die or if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness. They can use the money for anything, like paying off a mortgage and funeral costs. 

There are several different ways to set up a life insurance policy. It’s good to know the differences between them so you can find one that suits your circumstances. Here we look at the difference between single life and joint life insurance.

Single life insurance

Single life insurance covers only one person and pays out if that person dies whilst the policy is in place.

You can choose:

  • The amount you want paid out.
  • How long you have the policy in place for.
  • Who receives the money when you die.

Both you and your partner can take out separate single life insurance policies if you want to. This means that if one of you dies, the remaining partner still has cover in place.

Joint life insurance

Joint life insurance covers two people on the same policy, but only pays out once.

If you or your partner die whilst the policy is in place, the other will get the payout. The policy then ends, so the surviving partner is no longer covered by the insurance.

A joint life policy is often taken out by couples who share a mortgage. If one partner dies, the other can pay off the debt with the payout. The money goes to the surviving policyholder and will be for the same amount no matter who dies first.

You don't need to be married or in a civil partnership to get joint life insurance. A policy can be set up for two individuals regardless of their marital status. For example, friends who share a mortgage can have joint life insurance.

The similarities between single and joint life insurance

Both types of life insurance policy provide financial protection for your loved ones. They both pay out a lump sum if you die or you're diagnosed with a terminal illness.
You can choose to take out your policy for a set length of time – term life insurance – or for the whole of your life. Term life insurance lasts for a certain length of time.

Whole of life insurance stays in place until you die, whenever that may be.

You can choose for your payout to stay the same, decrease, or increase with inflation over time. And both types of insurance are easy to manage. You'll have one policy and one monthly, quarterly or yearly premium.

You may also be able to tailor your cover with extras. These include serious illness cover or income protection cover. 

Single vs joint life insurance: pros and cons

As a couple, you may be thinking about taking out two separate single life policies or one joint life policy. Let's look at the pros and cons.

Two single life policies

Pros  Cons 
  • Pays out on each policy separately, so each of you can have individual cover.
  • You can choose separate amounts of cover depending on your needs.
  • You can choose who you want as your beneficiaries. 
  • Usually more expensive to have two separate policies rather than one joint one.
  • You need two separate applications.
  • You must make separate premium payments. 

One joint life policy

Pros Cons
  • Can be cheaper to have one joint policy rather than two separate ones.
  • You only need to make one premium payment.
  • Complete only one application form.
  • No need to be in a relationship to take out joint life insurance.                
  • The policy comes to an end when the first person dies.
  • Both of you must have cover for the same amount.
  • The payout will go to the other person on the policy, not a named beneficiary.
  • It can be tricky to split the policy if you get divorced. 

The benefits of joint life insurance

Joint life insurance pays out once. This can often make it more affordable than having two separate policies. And having one policy to manage is simpler to administer compared to two.

If either policyholder dies the policy pays out the same amount. This can help pay off a debt without relying on the income of the surviving person.

Factors to consider with joint life insurance

When deciding if you need joint life insurance, it’s a good idea to consider your needs as individuals as well. If you don't earn the same amount, will the other be able to cover all your shared finances on their salary? You may find yourself under or over insured. Single life policies allow you to choose the level of payout you need separately.

A joint policy is useful if you need the same amount of cover for the same length of time. It’s often used to pay off your mortgage. If either partner dies, you know the other one will have the money available to cover the debt. But, when the policy pays out, it then ends. This leaves the surviving partner without any cover.

Many couples opt to have both single and joint life policies. If either partner dies, the joint life policy pays off the mortgage. The surviving partner also receives another cash sum and still has their own policy in place. Also, having separate single life policies can help if you no longer want a joint policy after a divorce.

The cost of single vs joint life insurance

A joint life policy is often cheaper than taking out two separate policies for the same level of cover.

This can make it more affordable. But it’s also cheaper because it only pays out once, whereas two single life policies pay out on each death.

But this isn't the only factor that affects price. Other factors include your age, health, lifestyle and amount of cover. Getting a personalised quote can give you a better idea about cost.


Making your decision

Consider three main factors when deciding what's right for you.

Your personal circumstances

Do you have a mortgage or people who depend on you financially? Do both you and your partner work or have debts? Let's compare a couple who share a mortgage and have young children to friends who only share a mortgage.

The couple have children who depend on them financially. They decide to take out a joint life policy for their mortgage and a single life policy each. The surviving partner gets enough money to pay off the mortgage. They also get enough to support the children.

Friends who share a mortgage will usually have separate financial lives otherwise. So, they decide to only take out a joint policy to cover their mortgage.

Your financial obligations

Your mortgage may be your main expense, but also consider credit cards, school fees and day to day living. It all adds up. And what if you're supporting an elderly relative with their care needs? You may need insurance cover in case anything happens to you.

Your future plans

Plans to move to a larger home, or have more children, will all influence your insurance needs. You may also want to leave a sum of money for future expenses such as university fees or a wedding.

Single and joint life policies with Vitality

We offer both single and joint life insurance policies. Here are some of the benefits of taking out life insurance with Vitality: 

  • A brand you can trust - In 2022, we paid out 99.7% of life insurance claims.* 
  • Get lower premiums when you add Optimiser to your plan, with premiums up to 40% lower. You can then maintain this discount through healthy activities. **
  • Access to Vitality partner discounts and rewards. 
  • Get free no-obligation advice. Our advisers offer expert advice to help you make the right decisions. 
Get your life insurance quote today

Published: 12 June 2024

* Vitality Life Claims and Benefits Report, 2023

** Minimum monthly premium of £45 for single life plans and £60 for joint life plans required to obtain access to full range of discounts and rewards. An additional monthly fee of £4.75 per person per month may apply.

Relevant guides and articles

  • Life insurance when single

    Do you need life insurance if you’re single, and if so what are the benefits? Find out if insurance is right for you in our life insurance guide for singles.

  • Life insurance for couples

    Joint life insurance is one policy for two people who are in a relationship. Learn how it works and if it’s suited to you and your partner in this guide.

  • Life insurance after divorce

    Dealing with life insurance after divorce can be complicated. Read our guide to learn what happens with different types of policies, and changing beneficiaries.