"Most cash-value policies have surrender charges that decline over a period of time," Blakeman says. "That's often 10 years, but it could be 12 or 15 years."After that, you'll generally pay no surrender charge or a very small surrender charge, Blakeman says. For details about surrender charges, he suggests that you check your life insurance policy or call your life insurance agent. Here's more about the basics of permanent life insurance.