Empire Life Life Insurance Review: Best for Smokers & Short-Term Cash Value

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In This Article

Key takeaways:

  • Empire Life is known for its competitive nonsmoker rates, especially its preferred smoker rate.
  • You need to buy over $1M in coverage and do fluid tests to qualify for a preferred smoker rate.
  • Their Optimax Wealth product is known for its short-term (i.e. within 20 years) cash value growth.

Our Empire Life life insurance review  

Our rating for Empire Life: ★★★★☆ (3.5)

Who is Empire Life?

Empire Insurance Company is a Canadian-based life insurance company that has been in operation since 1923. It's a privately owned company, meaning it is not beholden to shareholders. It's known for its stability, competitive rates for smokers and its flagship Optimax Wealth product that blends life insurance and a savings component.

With over one million customers across Canada, the company offers a range of products to suit different needs and preferences, including term life insurance, universal life, whole life and critical illness coverage.

Empire Life quick facts for 2023

  • Based in Kingston, Ontario
  • Has offices across Canada
  • Founded in 1923
  • A.M. Best Financial Strength Rating: A*
  • Overall individual life insurance claims paying rate for 2020 was 99.6%.**

*As of May 23, 2023, as reported by https://www.empire.ca/about-us/ratings

**As reported in Empire Life's December 31, 2020 OSFI filings.

Empire Life life insurance rates for 2023

Empire's standard smoking rates aren't the cheapest in Canada, at least for the rates we looked at, but they come out near the top. Their preferred smoker rates are very competitive.

Here's a sample of Empire Life's preferred smoker rates per month for term life insurance:

  • Empire Life: $261
  • UV Insurance: $271.80
  • Wawanesa: $274.50
  • PolicyMe: $278.97
  • Canada Life: $279.17
  • BMO: $282.60

All prices are for a 39-year-old man, $1M in coverage, 25 year term.

As you can see, it's very expensive to get life insurance as a smoker. At least with Empire Life it's a bit cheaper.

Here's how standard life insurance rates for smokers stack up for men, $500,000 in coverage over a 20 year term.

Age 35 Age 40
RBC $31.32 $45.22
Desjardins $31.50 $45.45
Beneva $31.50 n/a
Empire Life $31.95 $45.90
PolicyMe $85.13 $134.68

Here's how standard life insurance rates for smokers stack up for women, $500,000 in coverage over a 20 year term.

Age 35 Age 40
RBC $31.32 $33.52
Desjardins $31.50 $33.75
Beneva $31.50 n/a
Empire Life $31.95 $45.90
PolicyMe $85.13 $134.68

*All prices are current as of August 28, 2023. Source: Winquote.

How do I get preferred nonsmoker rates with Empire Life?

To get preferred nonsmoker rates with Empire Life, you need to:

  • Meet their requirements for blood pressure levels
  • Meet their requirements for cholesterol levels
  • Have no more than one family member diagnosed before the age of 60 with coronary artery disease, stroke/TIA, or cancer (except basal cell carcinoma)
  • Have no personal history of cancer (except basal cell carcinoma), diabetes, coronary artery disease, or stroke/TIA
  • Not participate in extreme sports or have a dangerous job
  • Have no history of, or treatment for, substance abuse in the past five years
  • Have no more than three driving violations in the past three years
  • Meet their high and weight requirements
  • Be a permanent resident of Canada

Just be aware that these qualifications are from Empire Life's 2017 criteria and they could've changed since that time.

Empire Life life insurance: pros and cons

Pros of Empire Life life insurance

  • Stable, one of the oldest life insurance companies in Canada.
  • Privately owned, no pressure by shareholders to maximize profits.
  • Preferred smoker rates are available for individuals with above average health and a lower risk lifestyle.
  • Preferred smoker rates are only applicable to those who purchase over $1 million in coverage.
  • Marijuana users can get nonsmoker rates, as long as the marijauana's been prescribed for medicinal purposes and you haven't used tabacco in any form in the past 12 months.
  • Approval times for life insurance are quicker than the industry average.
  • Empire is the only provider of term coverage that allows policy renewal up to age 100.
  • Claim payout rate is over 99% as of 2020.
  • Their advisors are Empire Life employees (not external agents) and they don't work on commission.
  • Simple online application, can get a quote online.

Cons of Empire Life life insurance

  • To qualify for preferred smoker status, you have to provide fluids (though this is pretty standard in the industry).
  • The investment components of their permanent policies can be difficult to understand.
  • Premium rates for this insurance provider are considered to be in the mid-range when compared to other companies.
  • Smoker rates are not #1 for affordability, but they seem to be consistently competitive, at least according to our research (not preferred rates)

Empire Life life insurance products

Term Life

  • Solution ART, Solution 10/30, Solution 30 are all term life insurance products offered by Empire.
  • Annual, 10 year, 20 year, 40 year and 100 year lengths.
  • Level coverage, first to die and last to die coverages available.
  • Up to $10M in coverage.
  • Policies have renewability and convertibility subject to the type of term life insurance you purchase

Optimax: whole life insurance

  • Empire Life's "flagship" life insurance product. It's their best-selling product.
  • Has never had a negative return on dividends.
  • Since Empire Life is privately owned, they can pump profits into their fund so it always delivers a positive return, even when the account makes a loss.
  • In other words, Empire Life guarantees that their dividend scales will never fall below zero.
  • Cash value growth within 20 years.
  • Four ways to pay premiums: in eight years, 10 years, 20 years or life pay (to age 100).
  • Option to add CI protect, their critical illness add-on.

Critical illness insurance

  • Standard coverage including four of the most common critical illnesses in Canada (cancer, stroke, coronary artery bypass and stroke)
  • Guaranteed up till 75
  • 10 to 20 year terms
  • Or add CI Protect, their critical illness add-on, to your term or whole life policy. It only covers four conditions, though.
  • The website says CI Protect costs as little as $3.65 a month, but that's for a healthy 18-year-old man.
  • CI Protect comes with a $1,000 death benefit, which is unusual, but anyone who needs critical illness insurance probably needs life insurance, so it's kind of useless.

Other available riders (add-ons) to your policy include waiver of premium, accidental death and dismemberment, a children's life rider and a children's critical illness rider.

Bottom line: Empire Life is a good choice for smokers

Empire Life is a stable Canadian company that offers competitive rates for smokers. If you're looking for a whole life product where you can access the cash value within 20 years, Empire's Optimax product is also a good bet.

FAQ: Empire Life life insurance review

Can I customize my Empire Life insurance policy?

Yes, Empire Life allows policyholders to customize their policies based on their individual needs. This includes choosing the coverage amount, policy duration, and additional riders for added protection.

Want to learn more about other life insurance options? Here are more reviews of Canadian life insurance companies:

Laura McKay

COO & Co-Founder
About the Author

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