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What is a policyholder?

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Regardless of the type of insurance you buy, the owner of the policy is known as the policyholder. If you’re buying car or homeowners insurance, being a policyholder is pretty straightforward. You’re in charge of managing the insurance coverage and making sure it’s paid. But if you’re buying life insurance, as policyholder you’ll need to assign beneficiaries and keep the policy up to date, making changes as your financial (or life) situation changes.

Policyholder definition

Many people ask “what is a policyholder?” A policyholder is the person that purchases the insurance policy and, therefore, owns it. You’re typically covered as the policyholder for whatever the insurance is for. So if you buy auto insurance for your vehicle, the car insurance documents will name and refer to you as the policyholder. If you’re in an accident, you will be automatically covered by your car insurance because you are the policyholder of the coverage.

Who else is covered besides the policyholder?

In many cases, others, besides the policyholder, are automatically covered by the insurance. When it comes to car, renters or homeowners insurance, the majority of policies cover relatives you share a home with, such as your spouse, parents, siblings or children. 

If your insurance doesn’t automatically include household members or relatives, you have the power as policyholder to add them. Some companies may charge you for the additional policyholders. Here are some scenarios:

Car insurance

While your car insurance will help cover passengers in your car, you have to add additional drivers to your car insurance policy to make sure they’re covered while driving.

Rental insurance

Rental insurance may cover your spouse or family living with you, but not everyone that lives in your household is included. If you have roommates, they are not covered by rental insurance that you’re a policyholder of. You would need to add them — or they would need to buy their own renters insurance to be protected.

Homeowners insurance

A homeowners insurance policy protects your home’s structure and the contents inside. Homeowners insurance will reimburse personal property losses of all members of the household. Make sure the coverage is enough to reimburse everyone’s property.

Life insurance

Life insurance works a little differently than other types of insurance. It’s mainly because life insurance policies are designed to benefit your loved ones after you pass instead of you. You may be the policyholder, but someone else may be the insured party. In addition, you’ll need to name one or several beneficiaries of the policy.

What’s the difference between policyholder, insured and beneficiary

Now that you have an idea of how different insurance policies work, you might be wondering about the difference between being a policyholder, insured or beneficiary.  Here’s a breakdown:

Policyholder

The policyholder is the person who “owns” the policy. They pay the premiums, they deal with the claims, etc. The policyholder can add others to the policy as so they’re covered too. Just make sure the limits are high enough to include all of the insured persons.

Insured

The insured is the person covered by the insurance policy. In nearly all types of insurance, the policyholder and their immediate family members living in the same household are automatically covered.

Life insurance works a little differently. A policyholder can buy life insurance to insure someone else. For example, a wife can purchase a term life insurance policy with her husband as the insured and name her adult son and herself as the beneficiaries. As policyholder, she controls the life insurance policy. If her husband dies during the coverage period, the wife and her son will receive the death benefit payout.

Beneficiary

The beneficiary is the recipient of the payout in a life insurance policy. You may name one or several beneficiaries and as owner or policyholder, designate how much of the death benefit you’d like each one to receive. It’s best to name beneficiaries who are of legal age, which in most states is 18 years of age or older. Naming a minor as a beneficiary can cause legal complications on how the minor would receive the payout after you die.

The takeaway

  • The policyholder is the owner of the insurance policy. As the policyowner, you have control over the insurance and in all cases except life insurance, you’re covered by the insurance.
  • In most types of insurance, your immediate family who live in your household are also automatically covered. This includes children, your spouse, parents, grandparents and siblings who live with you.
  • You can always add other non-family members to your insurance as additional insured. You may need to pay more to cover the extra individuals.
  • In life insurance, the policyholder owns and controls the policy but isn’t always the insured. You may buy a life insurance policy and name someone else as insured. If they die, the person(s) you name as beneficiaries will receive the death benefit.

The definition of policyholder is the owner and controller of an insurance policy. If you’re purchasing vehicle insurance, you’re automatically covered as the policyholder. You can always add other individuals to your insurance by naming them as additional insured on your policy.

Cynthia Paez Bowman

Writer

Cynthia splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and San Sebastian, Spain. She travels to Africa and the Middle East regularly to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development.

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