I kind of like those cholesterol med commericals on TV. “Is it from bow tie pasta, or your Uncle Bo? Well, family history has been a bone of contention in life insurance underwriting for some time and companies have been all over the map with their treatment of the issue.

I’ll just offer this scenario and a real life underwriter response just to kind of pave the way for the logic of it all. Let’s say your father died at age 59 of a lung cancer. He was obese, smoked heavily since he was a teenager, and drank whenever there wasn’t a cigarette in his mouth. You on the other hand, because of your father’s example, have never smoked, never drank, exercise regularly and wouldn’t be overweight on anyone’s build chart.

Most companies out there will bump you down two rate classes due to family history. The underwriter’s logic! How do we know that your father, and possibly you, are not genetically predisposed to cancer? We have to err on the side of genetic caution. No, I am not making it up. That is really the thought (or lack of) process that they go through.

Lights at the end of the tunnel? Reliastar doesn’t rate for family history of cancer. If you are over age 60, West Coast Life will not hold family history prior to age 60 against you, and Prudential, in the scenario above, will not rate you because you avoided the cause of your father’s demise. They only do that with lung cancer, but there are a lot of people out there right now who are paying way too much for their life insurance. An independent agent is the answer when you run into family history problems. It takes a number of companies to narrow down the best rate for a particular family history situation.

Family history of heart disease is a little more problematic, but still a good agent can keep it from affecting you or at least minimize the impact to one rate class. Again, the shining star in my mind is West Coast Life. If you are over 60 and the death due to heart disease happened prior to 60, it’s out. Several companies will allow their 2nd best rate with just one heart related death prior to 60, and I have seen exceptions made when the parent’s death was relatively early and the person applying for insurance has had cardiac evaluations to show that they are a good risk.

Bottom line. Family history doesn’t have to ruin your chances for good life insurance rates. If you have a family history of death due to cancer, heart disease, or diabetes prior to age 70, find an independent agent.