What does a Life Underwriter do?

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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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A life underwriter is an employee of an insurance company who assesses the risk of potential clients and decides whether or not to award a policy. This job requires the underwriter to review applications to fully understand a client's medical history. Underwriters also frequently consult experts to get a full picture of an applicant's health and use complex computer programs to aid in the life insurance assessment process. An underwriter must also be an expert on the insurance company's policies in order to either accept, reject or modify a proposed life insurance policy.

The first duty of a life underwriter is to collect and review applications for insurance coverage. This is a time-consuming process that involves closely monitoring the age, medical status and professional history of an applicant. Underwriters often contact applicants for clarification if needed. Life underwriters look for signs of risk in an application, such as health problems or dangerous professions that could lead to the policy being cashed in early.

If a question arises during the application review process, a life underwriter might require an expert consultation to acquire a fuller picture of an applicant's risk. Calling upon a medical professional is a common way of better understanding a complicated medical history that an underwriter is unsure about. The underwriter must take meticulous notes and add these comments to the applicant's file. Other professional consultants, such as psychologists or specific job experts, also may be consulted.


Computer programs that help assess risk are a major part of the life underwriter job. Modern insurance providers utilize sophisticated software to help make decisions. It is the underwriter's responsibility to fully understand how to best use these tools. Inputting risk factors, such as age and medical factors, is important. Knowing how to properly read the results and make a decision based on these factors is a critical function of the underwriting business.

A successful life underwriter knows the life insurance company's various policies. This requires the policies to be read and the underwriter to have an intimate knowledge of technological insurance terms and legal wording. This expertise aids in evaluating the risk of an applicant.

With all information properly collected and reviewed, a life underwriter must make a final decision. If an applicant does not pose a risk of cashing out a policy early, the application is accepted. If the applicant is too great a risk, the policy is rejected. In many cases, the underwriter makes amendments to modify the policy to compromise on the insurance decision.


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Post 6

@BronzeEagle: I am a life underwriter and you can get coverage with a history of cancer. This will depend on the cancer type, stage/grade, date of remission and cancer surveillance. (How often you see your cancer doctor in common terms). You will be charged a higher premium compared to your average healthy person, but at least you will be able to get covered. Also there are some companies that are accepting people with HIV. You will, of course, pay mightily for the risk.

Post 5

Life insurance companies naturally don't put people first. I can't really blame them though because if they lost money on every single customer, they couldn't stay in the business for very long. I'm not saying that it's right for people with illnesses to be rejected, but there is probably no other way.

And the life underwriter, he's just doing his job. I'm sure that he wishes he could give life insurance to everyone talk walks into the office. But it doesn't work that way.

Post 4

@BronzeEagle-- I'm fairly certain that you can't get life insurance if you have cancer.

Keep in mind that life insurance companies are businesses like any other. Their goal is to make money, not lose it. Since people with serious, chronic illnesses have a much higher chance of passing away sooner than healthy individuals, it's certain that the life insurance company will lose money. I doubt you'll even get a life underwriter to talk to you for long after you've mentioned cancer. They'll probably outright tell you that you are not eligible for coverage.

Post 3

I don't think I would want to be a life underwriter. It sounds like a depressive job. I don't believe that the assessments that life underwriters use are very accurate anyway. They just make an educated guess about how long the person might live. But it's silly because there is no logical way to predict that. We've heard of people with terminal illnesses suddenly improving and living much longer than expected. We've also heard of people dying young and suddenly due to illness or accident.

Post 2

@ Bronze Eagle

I worked as a life underwriter for three years. Yes, you normally have to disclose all medical information and some companies will most likely not insure you, but there are insurance companies that will. Just keep looking around. Like the article said, if you have a complicated medical history, the life underwriter may call on medical professionals to better understand your condition. If you're in remission and depending on the type of cancer you have, you may not be as much of a risk as you think you are.

Post 1

Hi, okay as a younger cancer patient (I'm only in my 30's), is it impossible for me to get life insurance because of my medical condition? It doesn't seem fair to be denied coverage. I assume I'll need to speak to a life underwriter?

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