Whole life insurance provides for a level premium, and a cash value table included in the policy guaranteed by the company. The primary advantages of whole life insurance are guaranteed death benefits, guaranteed cash values, fixed and known annual premiums. The mortality and expense charges which are part of all life policies will not reduce the cash value shown in the policy.
The primary disadvantages of whole life insurance are premium inflexibility, and the internal rate of return in the policy may not be competitive with other savings alternatives. Also, the cash values are generally kept by the insurance company at the time of death because the beneficiaries receive the death benefit. Riders are available that can allow the insured to increase the death benefit by paying additional premium. The death benefit can also be increased through the use of policy dividends. Dividends cannot be guaranteed and may be higher or lower than historical rates over time. Premiums are higher than term insurance in the short-term, but cumulative premiums are roughly equal if policies are kept in force until average life expectancy.
The cash value in your policy is available to you, if needed, and can be accessed at any time through policy "loans" which are received "income-tax free". Since these loans decrease the death benefit if not paid back, payback is optional and the stated interest rate in the policy would apply to these loans. Cash values support the death benefit so only the death benefit is paid out.