A life insurance rider is an addition to your life insurance policy. Riders cost extra and can fill coverage gaps and fit your specific needs. Generally, riders are added when you purchase life insurance, but there are some riders that can be added after the policy has been issued. It's best to ask your agent what riders are available and make a decision before you submit your application.

Here are seven life insurance riders to consider.

Accelerated death benefit rider (also called living benefits rider)

This rider allows you to use a portion of your own death benefit money while you're still living. Typically you must be chronically or terminally ill to use the rider. Many companies include an accelerated death benefit automatically as part of the policy.

Why you might want this rider:

  • You can typically access 50% to 80% of the death benefit while you're still alive.
  • Most companies allow you to use the money as you see fit. You can use it to pay for medical bills, your mortgage, making financial arrangements for your family or daily living expenses.

Keep in mind:

  • This rider is typically limited to those with terminal illnesses and a life expectancy of six months to two years. There may be some exceptions, depending on your insurance company, such as those in need of an organ transplant or those permanently confined to a nursing home.
  • This rider is meant to help with end-of-life hardships. It is not meant to replace health insurance or long-term care coverage.

Accidental death benefit rider

This rider pays your beneficiaries an additional death benefit if you die as the result of an accident, such as a car crash.

Why you might want this rider:

  • It can provide you and your family with a financial assistance for an unexpected accident. Accidents are the fourth leading cause of death each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Keep in mind:

  • This rider covers only accidental death. It doesn't pay out for death caused by disease or illness, and exclusions could include suicide, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, piloting an aircraft or dying during an act of war.
  • The rider might pay out only within a certain time after an accident. Check the policy for rules. For example, the rider might pay out only if death occurs within 90 days of the accident.

Critical illness rider

This rider pays a portion of the death benefit in a lump sum if you are diagnosed with a critical illness.

Why you might want this rider:

  • You can use the money to pay for medical bills and other expenses while you are being treated for your illness.
  • Critical illnesses that trigger the rider will be defined in the policy and could include:
    • Alzheimer's disease
    • Cancer
    • Heart attack
    • Heart valve replacement
    • Kidney failure
    • Loss of sight, hearing, speech
    • Major organ transplant
    • Paralysis
    • Stroke
    • Surgery to coronary arteries

Keep in mind:

  • There is usually a waiting period for payment, typically after the first 90 days of the diagnosis.
  • There is a "survival period" prior to payment. Typically, no payment from the rider will be made if you do not survive 30 days after the diagnosis. However, the base policy will pay the death benefit.
  • There may be an expiration age for the rider, typically at age 65.

Disability income rider

If you become temporarily disabled due to illness or injury and cannot work for an extended period, this rider supplies a percentage of your monthly income.

Why you might want this rider:

  • It can help pay the mortgage or rent, a car payment and daily expenses.
  • It can help cover bonuses and commissions that you're unable to earn while disabled.
  • You may be able to customize your policy to increase the coverage as your salary grows.
  • Some companies waive the life insurance premiums while you're disabled.

Keep in mind:

  • If you buy this rider, you'll want an amount of disability income to cover your necessary living expenses.
  • There is typically a waiting period before payment, anywhere from 30 to 180 days, depending on the insurance company.
  • This length of time you can collect this benefit is capped, though some companies pay for up to two years.
  • The total amount may be capped.

Guaranteed insurability rider

This rider guarantees that you can add coverage at certain times, regardless of your health.

Why you might want this rider:

  • If you develop an illness or medical condition, this rider allows you to increase the amount of life insurance coverage.
  • If your income and expenses increase, you can purchase additional coverage.

Keep in mind:

  • The option to add coverage typically happens at predetermined ages, up to a certain age. For example, you may be able to buy extra coverage between the ages of 25 and 40 at three-year intervals (ages 25, 28, 31 and so on.) The ages and intervals will vary by policy.
  • Certain life events may trigger an option for you to buy additional coverage, such as marriage and birth or adoption of a child.
  • There may be a cap to how much total coverage can be purchased.

Long-term care rider

This rider allows you to access a portion of your death benefit while you're alive to pay for a nursing home, assisted living, home health care or other expenses that qualify.

Why you might want this rider:

  • Life insurance with an LTC rider can help spare your retirement savings and lessen your reliance on Medicaid.
  • With life insurance with a long-term care rider, you may be able to avoid the "use it or lose it" clause of a standalone long-term care insurance policy. For example, if you don't need long-term care and never use the rider, the entire death benefit will be paid to your beneficiaries.

Keep in mind:

  • To qualify, you would typically be unable to perform two or more activities for daily living. These activities are:
    • Bathing
    • Continence
    • Dressing
    • Eating
    • Getting into and out of a bed, chair or wheelchair
    • Using the toilet
    • Note any exclusions listed for the rider, which could include alcoholism or drug addiction, attempted suicide and other issues.
    • There is usually a waiting period for payment after you become critically ill or disabled. You may be able to purchase a shorter waiting period for extra cost. A typical waiting period is around 90 days.
    • If you have a pre-existing condition and don't list it on the application, you could be denied coverage if the critical illness or disability happens within the first six months of the policy.

Waiver of premium rider

This rider waives your life insurance premium payments if you become totally disabled.

Why you might want this rider:

  • The rider can provide helpful financial assistance: You won't have to worry about paying your life insurance bill to keep your policy in-force when you're not working due to disability.
  • Some companies allow you to add this rider after the policy has been issued.

Keep in mind:

  • You'll need a doctor to provide documentation for proof of disability.
  • You must be under a certain age to use this rider, typically between ages 60 and 65, depending on the company.
  • There may be a waiting period before you can use the rider. Some riders require the disability to last for at least six months before you qualify.