Insurance Company View of Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma as 'Terminal Illness'

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Good morning,

I have recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma (metastases in Lymph nodes, Lungs and Liver) and verbally told the 'do nothing prognosis' is 12 months.

I am starting Immunotherapy in a week and clearly hope to improve my odds/life expectancy, but I also want to prepare for the worst. In addition, I feel I'd be better giving up work so I can focus on beating this (I work away from home).

I have already contacted Veterans UK as I may get an early uplift/payment of my Armed Forces pensions, so that will provide some financial comfort blanket.

However, I have both a workplace pension/life assurance policy and one I took out myself just over 20 years ago. My question is how (generically) insurance companies see Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma with regard to being terminal as I'm only just starting Immunotherapy. Do they count the Immunotherapy as potentially extending my life (but yet to be determined) or do they look purely at the Stage 4 aspects? 

I appreciate the answer is probably nuanced, but without the payouts I'd have to keep working, and I'd rather focus on being at home so I can focus on my treatment and spend more time with my family if the Immunotherapy isn't as effective as I hope it to be.

Thanks very much for taking the time to help, once (fingers crossed) I get better I intend to spend what remains of my time volunteering in an organisation such as yours and in my community. This has helped me realise what an important Service it is that you give us all.

Yours, Dave

  • Hello Dave (  ) 

    Thank you for contacting us. So sorry for the delay in responding. It sounds like you have some decisions to make and I hope we can help.


    As far as your workplace pension/life assurance is concerned, if this is your current employer and you are aged over 55, it may be possible to access the pension early. It’s also possible, in the event of ill health that prevents you from working or that is classed as terminal, you could access the pension prior to age 55. However, by doing so, you may lose the life insurance component of the arrangement by taking your pension but remaining employed – your employer will be able to confirm this either way. If you leave the job completely, the life assurance component will almost certainly cease.


    If someone is diagnosed as terminally ill (this is an illness with a life expectancy of less than 12 months), there may be an option to receive a one off, tax free, lump sum payment from the pension fund. This is called serious ill health retirement. For a pension company to pay out under the serious ill health rules, the person’s doctor would need to sign to say that in his/her medical opinion someone suffering from this illness is likely to have a life expectancy of less than 12 months. Some doctors may feel that they’d want to see how treatment is progressing before committing to an opinion.


    For access to a personal life insurance policy under the terminal illness clause, the insurance company will usually send a questionnaire to the specialist and ask about diagnosis, treatment, prognosis etc. Once the form is returned to the insurer, their chief medical officer will review the information to assess if someone meets their definition of ‘Terminal Illness.’ You can usually find the policy definition for terminal illness in the terms and conditions section of the life insurance documents.


    If you are starting treatment which may affect your prognosis, your doctors may not be able to confirm that you fit the terminal illness description under the current circumstances. It may be worth having a discussion with your specialist to see if they’d support a claim for terminal illness.


    There is quite a lot to consider here such as getting quotes for the options available for your pensions so you can make an informed decision. It’s also worth considering any impact the income or lump sums might have on means tested benefits etc. We’d be happy to discuss this with you further over the phone if you wanted to call us?  We are available on 0808 808 0000, Option 1, then 2, then 1, Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm. We’re also on webchat if you prefer.


    Just to finish, it sounds like voluntary work might be a really nice option for you. If you’d like to see what might be available with Macmillan and you’ve not already seen this page, here is a link to the volunteering page on our website. Hopefully, there’ll be something you’d like to get involved with.


    We look forward to hearing from you again, Dave. Take care.



    Financial Guide

    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email.



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