Here’s something you might not expect: Only 44 percent of working Americans say that protecting their loved ones if they die or are unable to work is a major financial priority.1 

There may be many reasons for not prioritizing this type of planning: it can be a difficult and emotional subject to broach, it can seem like another thing to add to our busy lives, or maybe it’s just not something that we think about regularly.  

It is in our nature to protect ourselves and protect our families in tangible ways, but when it comes to more abstract concerns, like our finances, protecting income, or a debilitating illness, we seem to have a harder time taking action.

Fortunately, there are essential things we can do to plan for the unexpected.

Your health

The concern: Many Americans have health insurance that does not cover all their medical needs, either because the deductibles are too high, or the policies pay for only part of the bill. We can only expect so much from health insurance, and people are rightly worried about becoming ill, both due to the illness and the costs incurred. Overall, 62 percent of those struggling to pay medical bills say the expenses were incurred by someone with health coverage at the time.2

The options: Fortunately, there are ways you can help protect your finances in the case of a health crisis. There are tax-advantaged savings options, such as a flexible spending account (FSA) or a health savings account (HSA), that help you put aside money in advance to cover certain eligible health care expenses. There are also supplemental insurance options, such as accident, critical illness, cancer, and hospital insurance, that provide you with a lump sum of money depending on what treatments you receive. These various types of insurance may be offered in your employer-provided plan, or privately. All these measures can help protect you, your finances, and your family’s well-being.

Your income

The concern: Without your income, even temporarily, your family could have a hard time paying the bills. The majority of Millennial and Generation X households say they would feel a significant financial effect if they were unable to work for six months because of an accident or illness.Something curious happens when people hear the word “disability”: They tend to shut down. It may be because people think of “disability” as a rare occurrence arising from an accident when disability is nine times more likely to come from an illness like cancer, multiple sclerosis, or heart disease.4

The options: There are many types of income protection that can address your unique income situation — and your family. At work, your employer may offer a disability income insurance policy as well as supplemental coverage that helps cover more than just your baseline income. Individual disability insurance policies, available through a financial professional, can be the most long-term and reliable sources to protect a portion of your income. Policies that are tailored to you and that are independent from the benefits offered through your job can help ensure you’re doing the most to protect your family’s lifestyle and future. If you’re a small business owner, you can buy disability insurance that protects your company if you can’t work. 

Your legacy

The concern: People are not protecting their families as well as they could in the event of a death. Half of U.S. households would feel the financial impact from the death of their primary wage earner in just six months, yet only one in four people say they need more life insurance protection.Not only do they have to deal with the loss of a loved one and that person’s income, surviving family members take on obligations such as the cost of burial, outstanding debts, additional child care, and a greater share of mortgage payments. We even see evidence of this in the rise of fundraising sites like GoFundMe, which has a designated “Funerals & Memorials” section.

The options: Life insurance is another form of income protection that can help you support those you care about in the event of your passing. People sometimes avoid adequate coverage because they think it’s too expensive or they’re more worried about saving for retirement than preparing for the financial strain that can occur because of a family member’s death. However, term life policies are surprisingly affordable, and whole life policies can be an effective asset in someone’s overall financial portfolio. In addition to the valuable death benefit, whole life uniquely acts as a financial instrument with living benefits and guaranteed cash value6 that can be used for unexpected expenses, tuition or even retirement.7

There are many ways you can help protect yourself and your family, by having the necessary insurance. By realizing where the gaps arise, and by talking through some of the possible income protection solutions with a financial professional, you can help ensure that the ones you love will be financially protected.

Stay at the forefront

Looking for more research, resources, and insights? Visit Guardian Edge to stay informed of the latest industry trends.

Go now

Guardian Edge is your resource for the latest insights on workplace trends
Get insights



Liz Hamel, Mira Norton, Karen Pollitz, Larry Levitt, Gary Claxton and Mollyann Brodie, “The Burden of Medical Debt,” The New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation, January 5, 2016


Ashley Durham, “2016 Barometer Study,LIMR and Life Happens, 2016


Council for Disability Awareness, 2018, “Chances of Disability


Ashley Durham, “2016 Barometer Study,LIMR and Life Happens, 2016


All whole life insurance policy guarantees are subject to the timely payment of all required premiums and the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Policy loans and withdrawals affect the guarantees by reducing the policy’s death benefit and cash values. Some whole life polices do not have cash values in the first two years of the policy and don’t pay a dividend until the policy’s third year. Talk to your financial representative and refer to your individual whole life policy illustration for more information.


Policy benefits are reduced by any outstanding loan or loan interest and/or withdrawals. Dividends, if any, are affected by policy loans and loan interest. Withdrawals above the cost basis may result in taxable ordinary income. If the policy lapses, or is surrendered, any outstanding loans considered gain in the policy may be subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy is a Modified Endowment Contract (MEC), loans are treated like withdrawals, but as gain first, subject to ordinary income taxes. If the policy owner is under 59 ½, any taxable withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents, and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation.

2021-129269  20231231