I was denied life insurance recently because, as a minor, I had been committed for attempted suicide. That incident occurred a number of years earlier. Can the company after a lapse of so many years use mental health as a reason to deny my application?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: May 2, 2012

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Yes, it is perfectly legal for life insurers to refuse to issue an individual policy seeking to insure the life of a person who is a member of a category that has a significantly higher risk of premature death than the average person on whom their rates are based. The fact is that suicide attempts and mental conditions are highly relevant to future life expectancy.

This may not sound “fair” and admittedly many insurance companies are backwards when it comes to understanding mental health and modern treatments. But the fear is that if a person goes off the medications, or faces future stress, the condition that lead to a suicide attempt may recur.

Not every insurer follows the same underwriting rules, and some may issue a highly rated policy (rated policies are much more expensive — like the kind someone with diabetes or 100 pounds overweight may buy) or issue a whole life policy but not a term policy. And if you have a job, most GROUP policies sponsored by employers provide coverage for all employees, and many allow you to buy multiples of salary.

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