SalaryShield is designed to be the Apple Computer of life insurance: simple and easy to understand, right out of the box. It is novel but not so revolutionary that it doesn't fit an industry pigeonhole; its income protection coverage is a kind of decreasing term life, variations of which have been tried by other companies. Heritage Union's principal target is a vast uninsured middle market of breadwinners making $30,000 to $100,000 a year.

Here's the concept: Whereas a traditional term insurance policy will pay a specified lump sum death benefit (say, $100,000 or $500,000) upon the death of the insured within the specified term (usually 10, 20, or 30 years), SalaryShield promises a monthly check. Typically, the check is about equal to the insured's take-home pay at the time the policy was written. (The benefit can be adjusted upward as the insured's salary increases.) The money keeps coming until the deceased would have turned 65.

Take a 35-year-old male nonsmoker of average health earning $55,000 a year. He pays $87.45 per month to ensure that his death will result in a monthly payment of $3,437.49 (75 percent of his salary) until his 65th birthday. If he dies within days of signing the contract, his beneficiary will receive a total of $1,237,500 over the next 30 years. If he dies on his 64th birthday, Heritage Union will mail only 12 checks totaling $41,249.88.

For about the same monthly premium, this 35-year-old male could buy a 30-year, $550,000 term life policy from a conventional insurance company. His beneficiaries would receive $550,000 in a lump sum following his death at any time during those three decades of coverage.

What's the better deal? If you knew when you were going to die, the decision would be easy. Assuming you lack a crystal ball on mortality, the choice comes down to peace of mind in answering the basic question: Which provides best for my loved ones should I die?