Terminally ill cancer patients told they’re ‘too well’ for life insurance payouts

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‘I’m dying of cancer at 41 but my life insurer says I’m too well for a payout’

Dear Katie,

In June 2020 I was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer which doctors found had spread to my lungs, lymph nodes and liver. I was told the diagnosis was terminal. I am a 41-year-old healthcare professional with a six-year-old daughter. I am fighting for my life and have made major changes to my diet and lifestyle which appear to have extended my original prognosis, which was less than 12 months.

I have also been through many treatments, which combined with the cancer, make me feel unwell, as you might expect. I am largely unable to work, which is causing financial hardship.

Last year I put in a claim with my life insurance policy with Legal & General, which states that it will pay out if I develop a terminal illness and am given less than 12 months to live. My oncologist advised me that I qualified for this.

The paperwork was very comprehensive and daunting and my claim has been dealt with incredibly callously.

I have been reduced to tears many times when dealing with L&G. Their staff seem to have no empathy for someone who’s 41 and dying of cancer. I have so far been given a £750 “hardship” payout, which barely pays the energy bills for a few months. I got so stressed and upset that at one point I asked for my husband to be the point of contact, but this was ignored.

Finally, a whole year after I made the claim, it was rejected. Legal and General feel that the evidence so far that I’ve outlived expectations, and the possibility that I may live longer, is reason to delay payment.

I am being punished for doing my best to increase my life expectancy in the face of the medical evidence to the contrary. Legal & General is materially benefiting from us carrying on paying the policy premium of around £30 per month, while the payout reduces as time goes on. It is currently worth £195,000 but the value decreases every year.

The way I’ve been treated by Legal & General has had such an effect on me that I have had to increase my antidepressant medication. I’m spending many hours worrying about finances when I should be enjoying what time I have left with my family.

LS, Hampshire

‘My efforts to keep my dying husband healthy may have blocked £600k insurance payout’

Dear Katie,

In April 2019 my husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I researched everything I could about cancer and we adopted many lifestyle changes such as only eating organic food, replacing all cleaning products with non-toxic ones, going to yoga classes, exercising whenever possible, sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, and hundreds of supplements.

In the run up to Christmas 2019, Alan underwent three gruelling rounds of chemotherapy and was extremely unwell. Scans showed the chemo to be ineffective and the cancer had continued to grow.

Covid then hit in March and our hospitality business of 22 years was shut down. We furloughed our staff but continued to pay full rent on an empty property along with pensions and wage top ups.

In June 2020 we were called in to the oncologist’s office to be told that the cancer had become so aggressive that he would have 12 months maximum left to live. He was prescribed a course of immunotherapy at six-week intervals.

My husband contacted both of our life insurance companies to start a claim, as both had a terminal illness clause. The oncologist shared his test results and wrote a letter to confirm the terminal diagnosis. I read up on various complementary therapies like oxygen chambers and magnetic frequency mats, and we’ve been spending over £8,000 a year on various therapies for him.

All this seems to have kept him alive, but his life insurance with LV has rejected his claim under the terminal illness clause. This is because its own doctors disputed the oncologist’s prognosis. 

The claim is worth £600,000 and would be completely life changing. The policy runs out in September next year so if he outlives it he will get nothing, and no other insurers will touch him with a barge pole now he’s terminally ill.

SM, via email

Dear readers, 

I was so sorry to hear you had both found yourselves facing such horrendous circumstances. Dying of cancer before your time – or watching your partner fade away too young – is one of the cruelest twists that life can take. After hearing how you had been treated by LV and Legal & General while in this vulnerable state, I felt compelled to investigate. 

The parallels between your cases are incredibly striking. You both hold life insurance policies, primarily designed to pay out a sum when you die, but which also contain terminal illness clauses allowing for a payout if doctors think you have less than 12 months to live. This feature is designed to ease the financial burden of the dying, allowing claimants to enjoy their remaining time without worrying about money. 

However, despite this provision and both your oncologists stating in writing that the life expectancies in question were likely to be less than a year, no payouts have been forthcoming. In both your cases the insurers appear to have stalled any potential payout by ordering more tests, some of which have been booked for months in the future. 

In both cases, it appears that the doctors working on behalf of the respective insurers have disagreed with your oncologists. They concluded that you, LS, and SM’s husband, are more likely to have longer than 12 months left and are therefore “too well” to qualify for a terminal illness payment.

And as it has turned out, on both occasions they were right about your longer-than-expected lifespans. LS, you are still here almost a year after your oncologist originally thought you’d be dead, and SM, your husband has outlived his initial 12-month life expectancy by two years and counting.

Of course it goes without saying that this is wonderful news for you and your families, but when it comes to life insurance, you feel you’re being financially stung for doing everything you can to keep going.

When I asked LV about its reasons for not paying Mr M’s claim, it said it had reviewed the medical evidence available as well as researching the individual treatment regimens he was undergoing, along with their success rates. It said that in recent years doctors have made “remarkable breakthroughs”, such as the stimulation of the immune system to help fight tumours in the treatment of advanced cancers with immunotherapy. 

Meanwhile, Legal & General said Mrs L’s specialist could not “confidently” say that her life expectancy was less than 12 months at the time of the claim, which is the condition on which it pays a “death benefit” in advance. Both insisted they had not declined the claims and invited both of you to update it with the latest available medical evidence, in case your health deteriorates. 

I am left feeling that these terminal illness clauses, which in your cases were written many years ago, now feel outdated compared with the way insurers make decisions today. It is wonderful that modern medicine is providing the terminally ill with more quality years, but I’m worried life insurers are using this to their advantage by wriggling out of paying the terminally ill.

The emotional rollercoaster this has created for you both has been the last thing you needed during this difficult time. Both of you are still being told your cancer is incurable. I’ve advised you both to keep LV and Legal & General up to date with the relevant medical information, as it has requested, and I wish you all the very best.   

A Legal & General spokesman added: “We would like to express again how sorry we are to hear that Mrs L’s illness has progressed and we appreciate the high levels of stress, upset and financial strain that come with a diagnosis of this kind.”



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