Does travel insurance cover a pre-existing condition and the death of a loved one?

Robert Hamilton was looking forward to his six-night stay in Colorado that he booked through VRBO and Turnkey Colorado. But he also knew that with his mother-in-law hospitalized, he probably should buy travel insurance just in case the unthinkable happened. It also led us to wonder if travel insurance always covers a pre-existing condition and the death of a loved one.

Hamilton’s story is a tragic, yet important reminder that not all trip insurance policies are created equal, and that timing is important when you buy one.

“My wife and I were required to pay for the rental in advance, with no cancellation and no refund,” Hamilton explained. “Because there were no refunds for cancellation, we were concerned and were referred/encouraged to purchase trip insurance from CSA Travel Protection, as recommended on the VRBO website. Two days after booking the reservation and purchasing the insurance, and several weeks before our planned travel, my wife’s mother passed away.”

Calls on that day to Turnkey, VRBO and CSA were unproductive at most. “The response to our first call to Turnkey was that ‘we are not able to do anything about it and you need to contact CSA – the trip insurance company,’” Hamilton said.

CSA then told Hamilton that he needed to talk with the owners. When Hamilton called back Turnkey, a representative told him to talk to VRBO. A call to VRBO resulted in no help but a warning to “make sure you notify Turnkey so that they can put the property back in the rental pool.” So, Hamilton called back Turnkey a third time. They were quick to point out their policy of no refunds. Hamilton told them he knew that and was just calling back to notify them so that the property could be put back in the rental pool (as instructed by VRBO). “The response was quite abrupt,” Hamilton related. “They didn’t take down our name or property information, just thanked us and hung up.”

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Hamilton then filed a claim with CSA, and after gathering piles of documentation, and after several calls to the claims agent, CSA denied his claim because he “reasonably could have foreseen the illness.” Hamilton claimed that his mother in law had been ill for much of the past several years. What he said he could not foresee was her sudden turn for the worse and death, which is what caused him to cancel.

“So, after booking and then two days later canceling our reservation, we were out not only the nearly $1,900 cost of the stay but also the premium for the insurance coverage, which turned out to be worthless,” Hamilton lamented.

Hamilton then contacted our advocates, who reviewed the paper trail between Hamilton and the companies.

It turns out that not only had Hamilton’s mother been ill on and off for the last several years, but that she actually was hospitalized at the time the policy was purchased.

The terms of the CSA policy Hamilton purchased clearly states,

Covered Events: The Sickness, Injury or death of you, your Family Member, your Traveling Companion or your Service Animal. The Sickness or injury must first commence while your coverage is in effect under the Policy, must require the in-person treatment by a Physician, and must be so disabling in the written opinion of a Physician as to prevent you from taking your trip (either because your condition prevents your travel, or because your Family Member, Traveling Companion, or your Service Animal requires your care).

Clearly, the death of Hamilton’s mother in law was a pre-existing condition under this policy, and Hamilton did not have a valid claim. He would have been better off purchasing a “cancel for any reason” policy, which is sold by various companies. We offer tips on how to buy travel insurance on our website.

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Hamilton realized that he would not receive a refund for his canceled vacation. Nevertheless, he wanted us to share the story of his Case Dismissed in order to warn other travelers to closely check the terms and conditions of a policy before purchasing it and to make sure it applies to their situation.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

  • RichardII

    “…and several weeks before our planned travel, my wife’s mother passed away.”

    Several weeks before? I don’t see why they could not go. It looks like he wanted to get out of this vacation and thought they could get the insurance company to bail them out.

  • SirWIred

    There can be plenty of circumstances around a death that can take weeks to sort out; I might have canceled too.

  • SirWIred

    There are policies that waive the pre-ex exclusion if certain criteria are met, and others that don’t apply it to people that aren’t travelling. I guess this wasn’t one of those policies (for whatever reason 1st-party policies rarely do, while they aren’t difficult to find at all with 3rd-party coverage.)

  • IGoEverywhere

    Very few travel agents will work with VRBO as no commission is offered. But we do sell several policies for the clients to cover their potential losses in case of an emergency cancellation. In keeping with Mr. Hamilton’s desire to help the next victim, we sell Travel Guard Gold for this situation, (we represent 3 companies to cover a variety of situation) policy that when purchased within 2 weeks of the initial deposit will cover pre-existing conditions of the immediate family circle, whether they are traveling or not. There are always gray areas on every policy and this one is they do not cover mental issues. Do not be afraid to go to your local agency and say that you would like to purchase insurance, even if they did not book the trip, we make a commission on the insurance, so why not?

  • RichardII

    What would the cost be for a policy that would have covered the case of this $1,900 vacation?

  • Chris_In_NC

    Sorry to hear about the OPs loss, but this is a case of unrealistic expectations of insurance. In fact I can’t see any insurance plan except maybe a CFAR policy that would help here.

    I’m sure the OP has his reasons for cancelling a trip “several weeks away” after his mother in law’s passing, but then that is his choice to eat the $1900.

    I can sympathize that the OP was mislead about the insurance and would have been better off not purchasing insurance. Alternatively, he could have delayed booking his accommodations or booked a property with a less restrictive cancellation policy.

  • Inquirer1111

    Years ago, my wife’s grandmother was ill, and it appeared to be the end. I discussed with a travel insurance broker about this. He emphasized to me that even with the pre-ex exclusion, this situation would not apply because the preexisting condition must be STABLE at the time of purchase of the policy.

  • Michael__K

    The pre-existing condition clause isn’t the only issue here.
    Policies (including CSA’s) invariably have language which stipulates that the Covered Reason must be “Unforeseen” or “Unforeseeable” — i.e. “not anticipated or expected and occurring after the effective date of coverage.”

  • The Original Joe S

    they do not cover mental issues

    If you use an OTA, then you got a mental issue!

  • cscasi

    It does not state in the above, whether or not someone who is currently in the hospital when the policy is purchased will be covered. It just states covers pre-existing conditions.

  • The Original Joe S

    “My wife and I were required to pay for the rental in advance, with no cancellation and no refund,”

    Why are you REQUIRED? No one FORCED you to engage that outfit.

    It’s like going to a restaurant which has apple pie. There’s a fresh new pie, and one old ratty slice. The guy tells you that you have to take the stale slice. REALLY? Vote with your feet.

  • Lindabator

    depends on the age of the travellers and the total of the trip (were they flying)? But for two people in their 50s, is about $117 to cover them both

  • Lindabator

    he did NOT purchase a policy that covers pre-existing conditions

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