Consumers don't doubt life insurance is valuable, but more than half say it's not at the top of their list of financial priorities. Those were two findings from a recent survey conducted on behalf of ING U.S.

The survey found a striking disconnect between consumer perceptions and behavior when it comes to life insurance. More than three in four respondents say life insurance is a valuable tool for financial and estate planning, but only 45 percent of married couples have discussed how their family finances would fare should one of them pass away.

"Life insurance is one of the least discussed components of a family's financial plan, yet it plays such an integral role in providing for a secure future," Butch Britton, CEO of ING U.S. Insurance, said in a press statement. "Without candid conversations among spouses, family members and financial professionals, many Americans risk being underinsured and having inadequate coverage in the event of a loss."

Factors keeping Americans from buying coverage

In today's economy, 53 percent of survey respondents say life insurance is more important than ever. However, almost the same portion - 51 percent - say they have other financial priorities that get in the way of buying coverage. That same percentage of uninsured individuals says they cannot afford a policy despite life insurance rates being at historic lows.

In addition to other priorities, such as paying off debt, consumers often have a limited view of where to purchase life insurance. Of insured individuals, 49 percent say they considered their employer as their only source for life insurance.

The notion that life insurance can be purchased only through the workplace may explain why those working for employers not offering life insurance benefits are seven times more likely to go without coverage. However, term life and whole life policies are available through a variety of avenues, including insurance websites and brokers.

Many not sure how much life insurance to buy

The ING survey also revealed many consumers may be underinsured. Of respondents, 61 percent have never calculated the amount of life insurance they need. What's more, 44 percent say they have little or no confidence that their current level of coverage is sufficient.

Although the amount of life insurance to purchase varies depending on an individual's financial goals, conventional wisdom holds that at least five to 10 times an individual's annual income is appropriate. However, the survey revealed 56 percent of policyholders had coverage equal to or less than three times their annual income.

Although the ING survey raises red flags about the level of life insurance coverage maintained by U.S. consumers, it also notes most individuals recognize the product's value. Comparing life insurance quotes online is an easy first step to finding a policy to protect your family.