Sun Life Financial has launched a single-premium, whole-life insurance policy with a benefit that owners can apply to long-term care.

The Wellesley, Mass.-based company says the product, called Sun Care Whole Life, can be used to pay for in-home care and assisted-living or nursing home facilities.

"We want to help people prepare, so if they ever need long-term care, they have more freedom to pick the level of care that suits their needs, and the costs don't have to erode their retirement savings or estate assets," said Janet Whitehouse, senior vice president and general manager of Sun Life's Individual Life Insurance Division.

An estimated 70% of people over 65 will eventually need long-term care, often for daily activities such as eating, bathing or getting dressed, according to a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sun Life noted.

Sun Care Whole Life may provide a long-term care benefit equivalent to as much as three to seven times the value of the premium, depending on factors such as the riders selected, age, gender and whether or not the policyholder smokes.

If the insured passes away without exercising the long-term care benefits, a death benefit goes to the beneficiaries, free of income tax, according to Sun Life.

The policy also provides, for an additional fee, an optional return-of-premium feature, which allows policyholders to recoup the value of their original premium.

"Once the policy owner pays the single premium, the policy is guaranteed to provide a benefit, either to the individual or the beneficiaries," said Bob Klein, vice president of strategic planning for the Sun Life's Individual Life Insurance Division.

Sun Life Whole Care, says Klein, offers several possible advantages over traditional long-term care insurance, which he said only provides a benefit if the client makes a long-term care claim, requires ongoing premiums and provides no death benefit if a policy owner never needs long-term care.

-Jim McConville