I've never heard anyone say that the death benefit check they cashed from the passing of a loved one was too big. On the contrary, there are too many situations where there are foundations and community fundraising efforts to help those who clearly had too little.

So the big question is, how much is enough?

As in many financial situations, the answer is it depends. But the facts upon which the answer depends are not rocket science. It can easily be calculated with a range of assumptions so that the insured person can make an informed decision about how much to have.

The variables are: savings and investments of the survivor, future earnings of the survivor, rate of return on assets post passing and the lifestyle needs (including inflation) of the survivors. Many reputable websites with financial calculators can help you calculate this.

Once you decide how much, then decide for how long you’ll need coverage. For many, term life insurance is the lowest entry cost and will do the job. Term life insurance is simply coverage in exchange for a premium. It builds no cash value and will deliver a death benefit upon the passing of the insured. You can buy a guaranteed premium for a period, perhaps 10, 20 or 30 years, or you can buy annual renewable term insurance where the premium increases each year.

Many agents recommend cash value life insurance such as whole life or universal life. These types of contracts generally have much higher entry costs and allegedly lower long term costs for those looking for coverage for their entire life rather than a specified time. These types of policies are referred to as permanent policies because the contract is written to serve those who want the coverage until the day they die – regardless of when that occurs.

Which type is right for you? It is an individual choice based on preference, facts and circumstances. But beware the overzealous agent trying to get you to buy a portion of your coverage in permanent insurance as a forced savings vehicle or in case you need the coverage for your entire life. This only makes sense if you’ve funded all other financial needs, such as college and retirement savings, home funding and lifestyle desires.

Focus on the needs and properly quantifying those needs first and foremost. The number is likely to be larger than you imagine.

Then shop the coverage to suit your budget knowing that you did the best that you can to provide the protection that won’t leave your dependents still financially dependent on someone else’s earnings. This is particularly important for young working couples with younger children.

John P. Napolitano CFP, CPA is CEO of U. S. Wealth Management in Braintree, Mass.  Visit JohnPNapolitano on LinkedIn or uswealthnapolitano.com. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. John Napolitano is a registered principal with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through US Financial Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. US Financial Advisors and US Wealth Management are separate entities from LPL Financial. He can be reached at 781-849-9200.