How to avoid loss where wife is the breadwinner

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Bereavement is a terrible enough trauma without the financial uncertainties that can follow when the family's breadwinner dies.

Although those most likely to be affected are women whose partners have died, a significant number of men face the same problem. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, between 20,000 and 40,000 widowers are denied such benefits.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show women are the sole breadwinners in 583,000 families where the husband is unemployed.

The most effective way to protect oneself in such cases is to take out insurance. Before taking that step, it is worth checking whether there is a life insurance cover as a work-related perk. Many employers offer such cover, often between twice and four times the person's salary. However, a survey by Legal & General found only 24 per cent of men had life cover through their work, and only 4 per cent of women are in jobs where such cover is available.

In most cases, the breadwinner's death should lead to the family's mortgage being paid off through separate life cover linked to the loan.

Here, it is important to ensure that both men and women are jointly named on the insurance. If the home and the insurance were in the husband's name only, but the mortgage is paid only by the woman, in the event of her death the loan may not be paid off.

Life cover is the main alternative for those who fear leaving their dependents in a financial mess if they die. The cheapest option is so-called term assurance, where cover is taken out for a limited period. If the policyholder dies in that time, the insurance pays out. The reverse applies if the policyholders survives.

For a 30-year-old couple just starting a family, joint term assurance of pounds 80,000 for 20 years to cover their children's early years costs about pounds 15 a month.

Finally, critical illness insurance, a relatively new type of policy, pays out on diagnosis of several so-called "dread" diseases, including cancer, sudden strokes and heart attacks.