A critical illness can occur at any time in your life, and inevitably brings financial repercussions - it can stop you from being able to work, or mean you face some hefty treatment bills.

A critical illness policy can help you meet the cost of paying your bills or providing for your family - and a whole of life policy extends this protection for the longer term, should you need ongoing financial help. We examine how whole life critical illness cover could benefit you:

How does critical illness cover work?

Critical illness insurance will pay out a lump sum in the event of people named in your policy becoming seriously ill. This means that critical illness cover can be useful for people with mortgages or with dependants, although anyone can take out a policy.

With some policies your children are also covered, so if your child falls seriously ill you would receive the same lump sum to help with their increased cost of childcare, and potentially cover time you have to take off work. Some policies may include your spouse, too.

However, each policy will cover a different list of critical conditions, so you'll need to compare whole life critical illness cover policies to make sure you get the protection you want. While most policies will pay out for cancer, heart attack and stroke as standard, the illnesses covered do vary so you should always check.

How to find the cheapest whole of life critical illness cover

To find the best critical illness cover quote, you need to decide on the cover you need and compare the policies that you're eligible for.

Providers won't allow you to take out a policy if you under 18 years old, and most also impose limits on how old you can be, so you need to make sure you qualify for cover before you look for the cheapest price.

You should always make sure that the maximum cover offered will give you sufficient financial support if you do need to claim. Most policies offer cover into the millions of pounds, while this seems a lot of money it could be ring fenced to only pay for healthcare costs rather than your ongoing financial needs. This will be paid either as a lump sum, or at a monthly rate depending on your policy.

Finally, always be honest when applying for a policy as failure to disclose a history of illness in your family could invalidate your policy if you needed to claim. To make your policy cheaper you could consider what lifestyle choices you could make to reduce your critical illness cover premiums (such as giving up smoking), but you'll have to stick to them.

Do you need Whole of Life Care?

Whole of life care differs from standard critical illness insurance (often called 'term' insurance) in both cost and cover. Term insurance will specify how long your policy - and premiums - last, for example 10 or 25 years from when you take out the policy.

Whole of life care gives you its full protection for your entire lifetime, although you have to keep paying your premiums throughout. This means that if you choose a policy that pays monthly rather than lump sums, these payments would continue for your lifetime.

Because of this extra protection, it usually costs slightly more than 'term' cover, but if you have long term financial commitments that would overrun a term policy it can prove vital to help with your ongoing financial and healthcare costs.

It can pay to look out for guaranteed policies, such as those with no premium hikes for 10 years, to ensure that you keep your costs as low as possible. On the other hand, flexibility is a key issue and you may want to review your policy if your circumstances change, e.g. you get a new job or have children.

Remember that the best whole life critical illness quotes are not necessarily the cheapest. However, if you compare policies based on the cover you need, you'll be able to find cheap whole of life critical illness cover that fulfils your requirements and gives you and your family all-important financial protection.