Irene and George Nesbitt, both aged 89, have faithfully paid into their life insurance for nearly 25 years 9News

A hard-working retired couple who have been paying into their life insurance for decades have been told by the bank that if they don't die before 17 January next year, they'll receive nothing.

George and Irene Nesbitt, both aged 89, thought they were doing the right thing by taking out the policy when they were aged 66.

They were desperate to make sure their loved ones wouldn't have to pay huge costs after they died.

"I wanted to cover our own funeral, I didn't want [our children] to have to lay out anything," Irene told 9 News.

"And I was quite happy to think, 'oh well, we don't have to worry about it anymore'."

But the married couple, who live together in Australia, were shocked when they received a letter from the insurance company effectively telling them they would have to die within six weeks if they wanted to receive a payout.

This is despite them handing over more than AUD$31,000 (£17,400, €19,800) to the company.

The pair, who have only "a few hundred" dollars in the bank and own no assets, say they thought a 17 January 2018 end date on the policy was simply when they would no longer have to keep paying into the scheme.

"I didn't realise that I didn't get any money, I just thought it meant their cover, I had to stop paying at that age," Irene said.

She added: "I never would have paid into an insurance like that, I would have cut it off."

To rub salt into the wounds, the couple even face further withdrawals for December and January.

When their policy began they were only paying AUD$15 a month. The rates have steadily been hiked up over the years, with them facing a monthly bill of more than $160 this year.

The Nesbitts say they don't own their home and rely entirely on their pension – so they don't have enough savings to pay for their burials.

Noting she had outlived her own life insurance policy, Irene said: "I've lived too long."

She added: "It's not for myself that I want this money, I want it for my children so we can be buried without worrying about it."

Commonwealth Bank, which owns the Nesbitts' insurance provider Colonial, told 9 News in a statement they were sorry to hear of the couple's dissatisfaction, but were unable to extend their cover on that policy.

"We are in touch with the Nesbitts to explore if there is any kind of assistance that we can offer," the statement read.

Their daughter, Dianne, said she found the insurance company's attitude "disgusting".

She said: "They're 89 both of them and they've worked hard all their lives – my dad worked seven days a week. All they cared about was that we didn't have to worry about their funeral costs. This breaks my heart."

Alexandra Kelly, a solicitor with Australia's Financial Legal Rights Centre, told 9 News life insurance adverts often play on the emotions of customers, particularly the elderly.

"We see a lot of marketing, particularly in the daytime TV space or late night, and it tends to be very focused on the person being a burden on their family on their death. It seems to us to be a type of financial abuse," she said.