The primary disadvantages of whole life are premium inflexibility, and the internal rate of return in the policy may not be competitive with other savings alternatives.
Riders are available that can allow one 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 much higher than term insurance in the short-term, but cumulative premiums are roughly equal if policies are kept in force until average life expectancy.
Cash value can be accessed at any time through policy "loans". Since these loans decrease the death benefit if not paid back, payback is optional. Cash values are not paid to the beneficiary upon the death of the insured; the beneficiary receives the death benefit only. In many policies, however, the cash value has been automatically used to purchase additional death benefit, meaning that the beneficiary is likely to receive more than base death benefit plus cash value.