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Method by which large groups of individuals equalize the burden of financial loss from death by distributing funds to the beneficiaries of those who die. Life insurance is most developed in wealthy countries, where it has become a major channel of saving and investing. There are three basic types of life-insurance contract. Term insurance is issued for a specified number of years; protection expires at the end of the period and there is no cash value remaining. Whole-life contracts run for the whole of the insured's life and also accumulate a cash value, which is paid when the contract matures or is surrendered; the cash value is less than the policy's face value. Endowment contracts run for a specified time period and pay their full face value at the end of the period.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on life insurance, visit Britannica.com.