The Importance of Dates in Your Insurance Policy

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 8, 2021

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Dates (not to be confused with the social encounter or the fruit) in the insurance coverage world are critical. There are three specifically that are often confused with each other but are highly crucial in insurance litigation. And to make it more befuddling, insurance companies each have their own definitions of those terms in their policies which they are supposed to follow. The three terms are issue date, policy date, and effective date. We will give you the generally understood meaning of these terms.

The issue date is normally the date on which the insurance company approves and accepts your application. The policy date is the date written on the policy. These two are sometimes the same, but insurance companies often add a few days to the issue date to name a policy date. This allows time for the policy to be delivered to the insured. The effective date is the date on which the legal obligation by the insurance company is created.

This is significant because it is the date on which the insurance company becomes liable under the contract. Insurance companies usually try to make the effective date very clear in their policies and define it in the policy and the application. The date on which a policy first takes effect is determined by several factors, such as whether a premium was paid with the application and if a conditional receipt was given for the premium if a premium was paid.

Almost all applications read that coverage is not effective until the policy is delivered and the first premium is paid. Therefore, these criteria must be met before the policy is considered to be in place. Backdating a policy usually results in different issues and effective dates. In that circumstance, premium due dates are ordinarily computed from the date of issue, while contestable and suicide periods run from the effective date. The effective date under a conditional receipt depends on the language of the receipt and state law.

This is a very complicated area of the law and courts apply different legal theories, depending on the facts and circumstances of each case. To give you a few examples, one court determined that a suicide period in a life insurance policy ran from the date the policy was issued and not from the date of the conditional receipt because the court considered the policy and the receipt to be two separate contracts. If the date of the conditional receipt had applied, the suicide period would have expired and the insurance company could not have used it as a defense and would have had to pay the death benefit. However, because the two-year suicide exclusion ran from the policy date (also the issue date in this case), the court determined that the insurance company properly denied the claim.

In another case, the court held that coverage began when the insured first paid his premium and not on a later date defined in the policy because that was what the insured could reasonably have expected (in legal parlance, called the doctrine of reasonable expectation). The policy excluded death from suicide within two years of the effective date of coverage, and the insured committed suicide more than two years after the first premium was paid but less than two years from the coverage date.

As you can see, if determining the date from which to begin counting a particular time period is critical to your outcome, you would be well advised to seek the advice of an attorney. There are policy definitional issues, state law issues, and judicial interpretation issues, all of which call for expert legal guidance. It is not an area for a novice.

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