I didn't know there were different types of life insurance. I thought life insurance was only used when some dies - must be all those crime shows I watch!

There are two buckets Term & Whole. Term is what I had in my head. Term is a policy for a time period, if the insured dies during the time period then the benefit is paid. Terms is usually cheaper in the short term. Whole includes more benefits & is usually more expensive. Whole covers you for the entirety of your life (not just a time period) & provides a cash value.  

Term vs. Whole Life Insurance: How to Choose