The fact is, 44 percent of all U.S. households either don’t own life insurance or think they should own more, according to a new study by LIMRA International. Those who feel they don’t have enough generally believe they have enough insurance to replace six years of income, but currently own only enough to replace only 2.8 years.

I understand it’s no fun shopping for a product that can’t be used until you’re dead. But for the sake of your next of kin, it’s important to know what you’re buying and how much you should buy. So let’s start with the basics.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), before you buy life insurance you first need to understand its purpose. Life insurance is meant to replace your income. If you have no dependents - a spouse, children, parents - chances are you don’t need life insurance. So start the analysis by simply asking yourself this question: "Who is financially dependent on me?" Then ask: "What major living expenses will these folks have to pay if I die?"

Next, you need to decide which type of insurance best suits your situation. There are two main types of insurance - term and permanent. Just like it sounds, term life insurance provides insurance for a certain period of time, typically one to 20 years. Term policies pay a death benefit only if you die during the period of coverage. Some policies can be automatically renewed, and some can be converted to permanent insurance without the need for a medical exam.

Then there is permanent life insurance, also known as a "whole life" or "universal and variable life" policy. Permanent life insurance includes a death benefit as well as a way to build up cash value, which you can borrow against or use to pay your premiums.

Under its LifeBridge program, MassMutual, one of the nation’s largest life insurance companies, is offering term life policies with a $50,000 death benefit at no cost for families earning between $10,000 and $40,000.

LifeBridge is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. So far MassMutual has written more than 5,700 policies, representing more than $285 million of insurance. Their goal is to issue 20,000 by Dec. 31, 2007. For information, call (800) 272-2216.

Don’t base your decision on a multiple of your income. Look at your total financial situation. Consider other assets that would be available to your survivors, including investments and Social Security benefits.

Don’t base the amount of life insurance you buy based on how much debt you have. Your estate is responsible for your debts. If you die broke and no one co-signed for your debt, creditors can’t legally go after your next of kin.

Life Insurance Awareness Month forces you to put a price on your life, literally. Difficult as that is, your family’s financial future and well-being is worth the effort.

If you’ve flown this past spring and summer, you’ve probably noticed fuller flights. Fuller flights mean more than just getting stuck with the middle seat. It also means a greater chance of getting bumped from a flight.

If the airline can arrange for you to get on another flight that will get you to your final destination within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no required compensation.

If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to your one-way fare to your final destination. However, the amount the airline has to pay is capped at $200.

If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles. In this case the maximum is $400.

You always get to keep your original ticket and use it on another flight. If you make alternate arrangements, you can ask for a refund on the ticket for the original flight.

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