Or, do I just need to keep up with payments from day one?
Actually, it depends on the type of life insurance policy.
Regular life insurance plans, such as term life insurance or whole life insurance will provide protection from day one that you own the life insurance.
However, some plans called graded benefit life insurance may require you to own the life insurance for 1 to 2 years before you die, in order for the full death benefit to be paid out upon your death. Otherwise, the policy usually pays back the premiums paid plus interest on the premiums.