Has life insurance become the red-headed stepchild of financial planning?

Life insurance products may be getting short shrift by financial advisors, according to a survey by Saybrus Partners Inc. and Harris Interactive that found only about half of respondents with an advisor having had a discussion with them about life insurance.

Among the 2,410 U.S. adults aged 18 and older who were surveyed online between July 22 and July 26, 786 said they  have a financial advisor.

"We believe life insurance is foundational for a well-designed financial plan, not only for the protection it provides but also for its tax efficiency, and potential for cash accumulation and wealth transfer," said Kevin Kimbrough, national sales manager for Hartford, Conn.-based Saybrus Partners.

Kimbrough said the survey demonstrated what company officials had been hearing anecdotally for years: Financial advisors often do not discuss life insurance during the financial planning process.

"They (advisors) are missing an opportunity to fill a critical gap in some existing financial plans while at the same time differentiating themselves and expanding their practices," he said.

Among respondents who have discussed life insurance with their advisors, 15% said the conversation took place more than ten years ago, while 40% have discussed it within the past year, according to the survey.

About 34% of survey respondents who have a financial advisor and a financial plan said their advisor has recommended that they add some form of insurance. Twenty-four percent were advised to include life insurance specifically and only 10% said their advisor recommended long-term care insurance.

"Life insurance can be complex, and many advisors are reluctant to introduce it into the financial planning conversation," Kimbrough said. "However, some of these financial professionals are finding that they can use outside specialists to help them advise their clients on the most effective and efficient life insurance uses for each unique portfolio."

Of respondents with an advisor and life insurance, 81% said the a primary reason they carried such policies was to protect their family and/or heirs with a death benefit. Only 17% cited wealth transfer as a primary reason while 15% cited the potential for cash accumulation.

The survey indicates that typical life insurance policyholders may not be aware that there are other uses for life insurance beyond family and heir protection, Kimbrough said.

"They may be relying on IRAs or annuities for wealth transfer, which are designed for asset accumulation and retirement income but not for wealth transfer, especially from a tax perspective," he said. "Life insurance offers potential for tax-efficient cash accumulation, which can be accessed for a variety of reasons including supplemental retirement income or health care costs, as well as a tax-efficient vehicle to provide for heirs."

-Jim McConville