‘You don’t know what’s around the corner’: family hit by tragedy

Brendon Cowie was rushing out to work when his wife Cathleen stopped him at the door for a kiss. A few hours later, arriving at a local church with their five-month-old son, Ryan, she collapsed and died.
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Doctors said Mrs Cowie, a gym instructor known as Cat, had an aortic aneurysm. She was 35 years old when she died in October 2015.

“I’m grateful she got those five months with Ryan,” Mr Cowie said. “Life’s very fragile. You don’t know what’s around the corner.”

Mr Cowie, who was working in landscape maintenance, had to drop everything “to be a full-time mum and dad. Financially, it was tough.”

The couple had never discussed taking out life insurance. “You just don’t think that stuff is going to happen to you,” Mr Cowie said.

Like many people, Mr Cowie was unaware that he and his wife had life insurance as part of their superannuation.

Housing, transport, bills and the cost of raising a baby added up, he said, and he would have struggled without the support of family, friends and his local community in Stanwell Park. When Cat’s life insurance came through “there was enough to get by, but not enough for the future,” Mr Cowie said.

The problem of underinsurance, when a policy holder has insufficient coverage for their needs, was highlighted by a survey released on Friday that found 38 per cent of families had no life insurance and close to a quarter were not confident the insurance they have would be enough.

A thousand parents nationwide were questioned as part of the Real Insurance Family Protection Survey, the seventh instalment in a series of national studies.Thirty-five per cent of those surveyed said that, if they died, their family would be financially burdened.

Real Insurance founder Richard Enthoven said consumers were increasingly confident about researching life insurance online and buying it directly.

“Not all Australians can afford or need financial advice so being able to obtain life insurance directly makes life cover accessible to more Australians,” he said.

Geoff McRae, a senior consultant with Rice Warner, which provides independent research and advice to the superannuation and insurance sectors, said people were more likely to focus on their immediate needs than on providing for the future through superannuation and insurance.

“There’s no doubt people are more aware of needing insurance for their car or their house than they are for themselves,” he said. “And with everyone under 35 thinking they’re indestructible anyway, they often feel they don’t need any insurance.”

The Rice Warner Underinsurance in Australia 2015 report examined levels of life underinsurance, finding the median level of life cover met just 61 per cent of basic needs and 37 per cent of the income replacement level.

The median level of income protection cover met only 16 per cent of needs, while the median level of total and permanent disability cover met just 13 per cent of needs, the report found.

Rice Warner consultant and report author James Williams said underinsurance had significant social and economic costs when people were out of work or on government benefits. The annual cost to the government of life underinsurance is estimated at $57 million, and $1.26 billion for total permanent disability underinsurance.

Mr Williams said some people were deterred from getting life insurance because,”the cost of cover is quite high”, and to some extent people expected “that the state is going to be there to step in if anything does happen”.

While most super funds offered life insurance for members “the amount of cover you get from a default group insurance scheme is … by no means going to cover your actual needs if something were to happen”, Mr Williams said.

A young family would need about $700,000 in life insurance, but typical default cover was about $220,000, he said.

Mr Williams said people needed to be aware of their level of life insurance cover, and to take into account all their personal circumstances and finances when calculating what would be needed.

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