When my father died, I knew I was going to be OK financially—I just didn’t know when. Between bank accounts that took months to gain access to and a house that had to be staged, marketed, and sold, the money and assets he’d worked tirelessly over the years to accumulate were in a kind of limbo—they were mine, but they weren’t mine yet. In the meantime, bills were piling up: not just things like the cost of cremation and regular mortgage payments, but my own flights back and forth to where he lived, and weeks off work where I was worried about losing income, 

That’s where life insurance comes in—he’d had a modest policy taken out years earlier with a broker, and when the check arrived about a month and a half after he’d died, it was a huge help. Life insurance isn’t for everyone, but it can be a great tool to make sure loved ones aren’t stressed about money in the aftermath of a death. Here are some basic things you should know before you figure out whether or not a policy is right for you:

Term versus whole: To start, it’s crucial to know the difference between these two major kinds of life insurance. Term life insurance is a policy that covers you for a specific period of time (around 20-30 years). If you die during the time the policy is active, your loved ones get a payout. If you die after the policy expires, they don’t. For this reason, it’s usually way cheaper than whole life insurance, where you get a payout no matter when you die. Premiums on term life insurance are usually significantly less expensive, which is why many financial experts recommend it.

Make sure you’re working with a reputable broker: In July 2019, the Huffington Post published a great roundup of common life insurance facts, figures, and misconceptions, and the biggest takeaway is that you’ve got to work with someone you can trust. Many people, for example, don’t know the difference between term and whole life insurance, or that life insurance isn’t an investment in the traditional sense. A good broker will make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting, and why it’s the right product for you. 

You can get a small policy to cover funeral costs: It’s true! Many people see life insurance as a big, long-term affair, but it’s totally possible to get what’s called a ‘final expense’ policy, which can offer your loved ones anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 to help with funeral expenses. This can be a good option if you’re worried about the cost of a large funeral. 

Think about why you’re getting the policy: Are you your family’s primary breadwinner, and you want to make sure they’re taken care of in case you die during your prime working years? Parent of a special-needs child who might require expensive care after you’re gone? Different situations call for different kinds of life insurance, and it helps to know what you specifically want life insurance to do for you and your family before you buy a policy. 

Think about your beneficiaries—and keep them updated: Most people get life insurance to ensure family members will be taken care of, but different families have different needs! Some people designate their spouse as the primary beneficiary, while others choose to have the payouts go directly to their children. If you have life insurance, set a reminder to look at the policy once a year and make sure it still reflects your wishes. And, of course, make sure your family members know about the policy! Have the paperwork handy, as well as the broker’s contact information, so that if something does happen, they can get started right away.