There’s no point talking to clients about the children’s element of any given critical-illness plan until you know whether their children meet the eligibility criteria. Advisers might know their favourite insurers’ plans inside out and wax lyrical about the range of conditions they cover. But if the client’s children are grown up, or the family doesn’t fit the traditional family model – perhaps the client is a legal guardian rather than a parent – a closer look at the finer details might rule out one plan, while another will fit the bill perfectly.

At a very basic level, working out if clients’ children are eligible for children’s critical-illness cover depends on how a child is defined. Insurers tend to categorise children depending on the nature of the relationship between the child and the life assured. Children born to the client, adoptive children and step-children are the three categories we are all familiar with. However, families come in all shapes and sizes these days, so it cannot be assumed that a child will fall neatly into one of those three straightforward categories. In this article we look at how child eligibility for critical illness cover compares across providers

A client may be a child’s legal guardian or they may have a child living with them who does not fall into any of the other categories. Insurers will vary as to whether these children will be eligible for cover.

As you would expect, our chart show all insurers listed will provide CI cover to the naturally born child, legally adopted child or step-child of the life assured. In contrast, four companies – Guardian, Royal London, Scottish Widows and VitalityLife – will provide cover where the life assured is the legal guardian of the child. However, Royal London will only provide cover if the child is financially dependent on the life assured.

Just two insurers – Guardian and Royal London – will provide cover for children that simply live with the life assured. Again, Royal London has the requirement that the child is financially dependent on the life assured to be eligible for cover.

Although it is easier to get cover for birth children and adopted children, it can’t be assumed that insurers will automatically cover children who are born or adopted during the plan. Some will but some won’t – as our chart shows, there is an even split between providers on this issue.

Claiming for more than one child and receiving the full amount per child are pretty standard across the market but insurers are split in relation to allowing a same child claim for multiple unrelated conditions. AIG, Canada Life, Guardian, LV=, Legal & General and VitalityLife allow these claims, subject to a minimum period between claims of less than 14 days.

Fewer insurers will allow multiple claims for the same condition – only Legal & General, Scottish Widows and Zurich do this. And only VitalityLife requires children to be named on the policy to be covered.

The maximum age at which a child can be covered by children’s critical-illness cover is particularly relevant to clients with grown-up children and the limits will differ depending on whether the child is in full-time education or not. Age 23 is the highest limit for children who are still in full-time education. This is offered by Guardian, LV=, Royal London and VitalityLife.

Where the child is no longer in full-time education, Guardian and LV= retain their age 23 limit, while Royal London’s limit reduces to 21 and VitalityLife’s drops even further to 18

At the other end of the age spectrum, insurers will cover babies either from birth or at 30 days’ old. From birth is slightly more common, but it is interesting to see that Aviva and Legal & General has a foot in both camps, reflecting differences in basic and upgraded cover.

Perhaps the most emotional aspect of children’s critical-illness cover is explaining to clients that a child generally must survive for a specific period after a diagnosis before a claim will be paid by the insurance company. It may require sensitive handling in order for it not to appear brutal, but clients may feel reassured once they know that the maximum survival period within the market is 14 days.

The 14-day survival period used to be the industry norm, but as our table shows, most insurers now apply a shorter 10-day survival period and that is better for the client. Even better still, LV= is unique in not applying a survival period. This is a big positive as it means claims would be paid where a child dies the day after being diagnosed with a critical illness, while most insurers would not be required to pay out in these circumstances.

Overall, Guardian is one of the top picks. It makes cover available to children who live with the life assured and in situations where the life assured is a child’s legal Guardian. Although Royal London also do this, they require the child to be financially dependent on the life assured, which Guardian does not.

Guardian also comes out joint top with LV= in terms of providing children’s critical-illness cover until age 23 regardless of whether the child is in full-time education or not. This is great news for parents whose children might not go to college or university, as they will still qualify for cover.

LV= also deserves credit for doing away with the survival period, as this removes any doubt about a claim being paid during one of the most traumatic situations a parent or guardian could find themselves in.