Annuity Death Benefits for Beneficiaries

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

What Happens To An Annuity When You Die?

When an annuitant dies, what happens to the annuity depends on its terms:

  • Life Annuity: Payments stop upon death.
  • Joint Life: Payments continue to a surviving partner.
  • Certain Period: Payments to beneficiaries for a set time.
  • Deferred Annuity: Sum paid to beneficiaries.

Specifics vary by contract.

Do Annuities Have Beneficiaries?

Yes, annuities do have beneficiaries. Any annuity contract allows the owner to name an annuity beneficiary. The significance of having a beneficiary on an annuity is that it offers an efficient way of transferring wealth without probate – a significant advantage for those wishing to avoid the often lengthy and expensive legal process.

Annuity Death Benefits

An annuity death benefit is paid to the beneficiaries when the annuity holder dies. It ensures that the holder’s investment benefits their loved ones, even if they pass away before receiving all their annuity payments (lump sum or a series of payments).

Which Annuities Have A Death Benefit?

Variable
Annuity
Fixed Index
Annuity
Fixed
Annuity
Immediate
Annuity
Principal ProtectionNoYesYesYes
Access To PrincipalYesYesYesNo
Control Over MoneyYesYesYesNo
Tax-Deferred GrowthYesYesYesNo
Guaranteed GrowthNoYesYesNo
Guaranteed IncomeYesYesYesYes
Inflation ProtectionYesYesNoYes
Death BenefitYesYesYesMaybe
Long-Term Care HelpYesYesYesNo

Choosing a Beneficiary

Annuity owners are free to select their beneficiaries, barring irrevocable ones, ensuring that the chosen primary beneficiary receives the proceeds as continued payments or a lump sum upon their death. They can allocate specific percentages or amounts to beneficiaries safeguarded from the lengthy and costly probate process. However, minors must wait until they are of legal age to access their portion. If the owner fails to designate beneficiaries, the annuity may enter probate, potentially resulting in the forfeiture of the death benefit to the insurance company, negating the intended financial legacy.

Why Buy An Annuity With Enhanced Death Benefits?

Below are a few reasons why people purchase annuities with enhanced death benefits:

  • Enhanced Annuity Death Benefits are life insurance alternatives with no medical underwriting.
  • In some cases, a retiree could withdraw Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) and preserve most, if not all, of their original investment for estate planning.
  • Others purchase these riders to reduce tax obligations for their beneficiaries.
AnnuityTypeRatingRider Fee
Americo LibertyMarkIndexedA0.30%
Athene AccumulatorIndexedA0.95%
Pacific Life Index DimensionsIndexedA+0.40%
Fidelity & Guaranty Prosperity EliteIndexedA-1.5%
Great American Legend IIIIndexedA0.95%
Americo ClassicMarkIndexedA0.30%
Great American Safe ReturnIndexedA0.95%
Nationwide New HeightsIndexedA0.50%
Athene AgilityIndexedANone
Great American Custom 10IndexedA0.90%
Great American Legend 7IndexedA0.95%
Pacific Indexed FoundationIndexedA+0.40%
Allianz 222IndexedANone
Americo FutureMark (Legacy)IndexedANone
Global Atlantic Choice Accumulation IIIndexedA0.50%
Nassau Personal Protection ChoiceIndexedB+1.15%
Athene BCA 2.0IndexedA0.85%
Columbus Life AccountMaxFixedA+0.35%

Trusts As The Beneficiary Of Annuity

Owners can also assign a trust to receive any death; the proceeds must be paid out within five years. The trust can be the annuity owner if the trustee is named the owner and the trust is the primary beneficiary.

Can Annuity Beneficiaries Be Contested

How Do You Know If An Annuity Has A Death Benefit?

Most annuities offer a death benefit, which is the remaining account balance transferred to a beneficiary if the annuitant dies before the funds are exhausted.

Review the contract’s terms, specifically sections labeled “death benefit” or similar phrases, or consult your financial advisor for clarity to determine if an annuity has a death benefit.

What Is An Annuity Death Benefit

Understanding Annuity Beneficiaries:

An annuity contract allows the holder to designate beneficiaries, individuals, or entities set to receive the proceeds upon the annuitant’s death. These beneficiaries are typically categorized as primary and contingent.

  • Primary Beneficiaries: These individuals are first in line to receive the death benefits. The annuitant can designate one or several primary beneficiaries and stipulate the percentage of assets each should receive. In the event of the annuitant’s passing, assets transition directly to them, bypassing probate.
  • Contingent Beneficiaries: These are essentially backup beneficiaries, stepping in to receive the benefits if the primary beneficiary is deceased, unable, or unwilling to accept the inheritance. They ensure that the annuity proceeds remain within the annuitant’s chosen circle, even if the original plan goes awry.
 Annuities With Death Benefits

Passing Down A Stream of Payments or No Death Benefit:

  • Stream of Payments: Some annuities are set up to provide a guaranteed stream of income for a certain period or for life, known as “annuitization.” If the annuitant passes away before the end of the income period, the remaining payments may continue to the beneficiary. This scenario is common with certain types of annuities that feature a “period certain” annuitization, guaranteeing payments for a specific number of years, regardless of the annuitant’s lifespan.
  • No Death Benefit: If the annuity is set up as a “life-only” or “straight life” annuity, the payments stop upon the death of the annuitant, with no benefits passing to beneficiaries. This setup offers higher payments but doesn’t provide after-death benefits. It’s chosen by those who prioritize maximum income over leaving a financial legacy.

Passing Down A Lump Sum Death Benefit

Deferred annuities are different because they accumulate savings rather than paying out immediately. For these, the death of the annuitant triggers options for the beneficiaries:

  • Lump-Sum Payment: Beneficiaries of deferred annuities typically have the option to receive the entire account balance in one lump-sum payment. This approach provides immediate access to money, but it’s important to consider tax implications, as the lump sum could significantly increase the beneficiary’s taxable income for the year.
  • Spousal Continuance: If the beneficiary is the spouse of the deceased, they may have an additional option called “spousal continuance.” This option allows the spouse to continue the annuity contract in their name, essentially stepping into the shoes of the deceased and maintaining the annuity’s tax-deferred status. They can then make decisions about when to start taking income, how much to receive, and, if desired, annuitize the contract.
  • Non-Spousal Options: Non-spousal beneficiaries (like a parent) might also have the option to receive annuity payments over their lifetime or a set period, depending on the annuity contract’s terms. This approach can spread out the tax impact over several years.
Annuities Death Benefit

Death Benefits Before and After Annuitization

Annuitization is typically an option with modern deferred annuities. Below are options for an annuity beneficiary of an inherited annuity before and after the annuity was annuitized.

If Annuitant Dies Before Annuization

If annuitants die before annualization, the beneficiaries will receive the annuity’s value in a lump sum or a series of payments.

If Annuitant Dies After Annuization

If an annuitant dies after annualization begins, the beneficiaries will receive either the remaining series of annuity payments or nothing, depending on the annuitant’s choice of an annuity payout.

Dies Before AnnuitizationDies After Annuitization
Lump-Sum DistributionSeries of Payments
Spousal ContinuanceNo Death Benefit

Are Annuity Death Benefits Taxable?

Annuity death benefits are generally taxable, but the specific tax treatment will depend on the type of annuity and the circumstances of the death. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Type of annuity: The type of annuity will determine whether or not the death benefits are taxable. Qualified annuities, held in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401k plans or IRAs, are generally subject to income tax when the death benefits are paid out. Nonqualified annuities, held outside of tax-deferred retirement accounts, may be subject to income or estate tax, depending on the circumstances.
  • The beneficiary of the death benefit: The beneficiary of the death benefit will also affect the tax treatment of the death benefit. If the death benefit is paid to the policyholder’s estate, it may be subject to estate tax. The death benefit may be subject to income tax if paid to a named beneficiary.
  • Amount of the death benefit: The death benefit amount may also affect the tax treatment. Generally, the excess amount may be subject to income tax if the death benefit exceeds the premiums paid into the annuity.

It is important to note that the tax treatment of annuity death benefits can be complex. Therefore, consulting with a financial advisor or tax professional is essential for guidance.

How Are Annuity Death Benefits Taxed?

Annuity death benefits are generally taxable, but the specific tax treatment will depend on the type of annuity and the circumstances of the death. Here is an overview of how annuity death benefits may be taxed:

  • Qualified annuities: These are held in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401k plans or IRAs. If the policyholder dies and the death benefit is paid to the beneficiary, the beneficiary will generally be required to pay income tax on the death benefit. The tax rate will depend on the beneficiary’s tax bracket.
  • Nonqualified annuities: Nonqualified annuities are annuities held outside of tax-deferred retirement accounts. If the policyholder dies and the death benefit is paid to the beneficiary, the tax treatment will depend on the beneficiary’s relationship with the policyholder. The death benefit may be tax-free. For example, if the beneficiary is the policyholder’s spouse. However, if the beneficiary is a non-spouse, the death benefit may be subject to income tax.
  • Estate tax: If the death benefit is paid to the policyholder’s estate, it may be subject to estate tax. The estate tax rate is generally 40%, but there is a credit or exclusion that can reduce or eliminate the tax for most estates.

It is important to note that the tax treatment of annuity death benefits can be complex. Therefore, consulting with a financial advisor or tax professional is essential for guidance.

Consider Life Insurance Instead Of Annuities

Life insurance might be better if you leave money to your beneficiaries. You don’t have to take a medical examination in some cases. Instead, shop and compare life insurance policies to see how much they cost you each month. Coverage starts at $9.37 per month.

Related Reading: Get Life Insurance Quotes

Annuity Payout Options For Beneficiaries

If you inherit an annuity, you have four ways to get the money.

  • Lump-Sum Distribution: A lump-sum distribution is when the beneficiary gets the remaining annuity’s value in one payment, similar to a CD.
  • Nonqualified-Stretch Provision: Nonqualified annuity beneficiary options include a nonqualified stretch provision that will give beneficiaries the payments they are entitled to based on life expectancy.
  • Five-Year Rule: An annuity’s beneficiary has five years to take out the proceeds. After that, they can take them out gradually or in a single lump sum anytime, as long as they withdraw all of the death benefits within five years of the annuitant’s death.
  • Spousal Continuance: Spouses can be the new owner and annuitant of the deceased’s annuity and continue the contract.

Spousal vs. Non-Spousal Beneficiaries

When their partner dies, spousal beneficiaries can take over an annuity, keeping its benefits and tax rules. Non-spousal beneficiaries only receive the set death benefit and can’t continue the annuity. This difference is important for planning who gets your assets in the future.

Is An Annuity Death Benefit Taxable?

Annuity death benefits are taxable as ordinary income. When someone inherits an annuity, they owe taxes on the proceeds. If a beneficiary chooses to take the money immediately, they must pay the taxes immediately. But, of course, this is only if you choose a lump sum. On the other hand, if a beneficiary chooses to take the money over time, the taxes are not owed until the money is withdrawn from the annuity.

  • Qualified Inherited Annuity Death Benefits: All of the death is taxable.
  • Nonqualified Inherited Annuity Death Benefits: Only interest earned is taxable income.
Annuity Death Benefit

How To Find A Missing Annuity Death Benefit

Beneficiaries can find lost death benefits from annuities by contacting the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. You can do this with a death certificate from the funeral home that conducted the burial or cremation. The process could take up to 90 business days. Be prepared to have as much personal information about the person who died, like their name, social security number, date of birth, etc.

Next Steps

Annuities can provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones. If something happens to you, they will receive the death benefit from the annuity. This money can help them pay for funeral costs or any other expenses. Contact us today for a quote on an annuity that will provide financial security for you and your family.

Annuity Death Benefits For Annuity Beneficiaries

Have a Question About Annuity Death Benefits?

There are various types of annuity death benefits. Be sure to compare products and seek help from a licensed professional to help you find the best options for your needs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is a survivor annuity death benefits taxable?

Survivor death benefits are taxable and taxed as the surviving spouse receives income payments.

Who will receive the annuity benefits if the annuitant dies during accumulation?

If the annuitant dies before the payout period, their beneficiary will receive the amount paid into the plan or the cash value, whichever is greater.

What happens if the annuitant dies before the annuity start date?

If the annuitant dies before the annuity start date, the beneficiary will receive a lump-sum payment of the total premiums paid into the annuity. If the annuitant dies after the annuity start date, the beneficiary will generally continue to receive payments.

Do you lose your annuity when you die?

The answer to this question depends on the type of annuity you have. If you have a life annuity, your payments will end when you die. However, if you have a certain annuity term, your payments will continue for the specified number of years, even if you die before that period ends. Deferred annuities will pay out a lump sum to your beneficiaries upon death. So, it depends on your annuity and what will happen to it when you die.

Can an annuity be passed on to heirs?

Yes, an annuity can be passed on to heirs. However, some rules and regulations must be followed to do so. First, you will need to name a beneficiary for your annuity. This can be done when you first purchase the annuity or after that. You must also specify the type of payout you want your beneficiary to receive.

Are annuities part of an estate?

No, annuities generally avoid probate and are not part of an estate. After you die, your beneficiaries must contact the annuity company to start receiving payments. The company will then typically send out the payments within a few weeks. Your beneficiaries will receive a lump sum payment if you have a deferred annuity. This usually happens within a few months after your death.

How long does a beneficiary have to claim an annuity?

There is no set time frame for a beneficiary to claim an annuity. However, it is typically best to do so as soon as possible. This will ensure that the payments are received promptly and that any issues can be dealt with quickly.

How are annuities taxed at death?

At death, annuities are taxed based on whether the beneficiary receives the proceeds as a lump sum or an annuity. For non-qualified annuities, the portion of the proceeds exceeding the original investment is taxed as ordinary income to the beneficiary. Qualified annuity proceeds are fully taxable as ordinary income. The tax implications can vary, so it’s crucial to consult a tax advisor for personalized advice and understand the potential impact on the estate.

Can annuity beneficiaries be contested?

Yes, annuity beneficiaries can be contested. However, it is essential to note that this is a complex process and should only be done with the help of a qualified annuity loss attorney. Therefore, if you are considering contesting an annuity beneficiary, you should first speak to an attorney to see if it is viable for your situation.

Is an annuity death benefit the same as life insurance?

An annuity death benefit pays out a set amount to your beneficiaries when you die. This is different from life insurance, which pays out a death benefit based on the face value of your policy. With an annuity, you are essentially investing in your own life, and the death benefit is meant to cover any outstanding costs or debts you may have. Annuity death benefits are taxable, and life insurance proceeds are tax-free.

Are annuity death benefits taxable?

Annuity death benefits are taxable to annuity policy beneficiaries.

What happens if the annuity owner dies while the annuity is still in the accumulation stage?

The primary beneficiary will inherit the annuity account balance in a lump sum.

What’s the difference between a designated and non-designated beneficiary?

A designated beneficiary is a human being, such as a spouse or child. A non-designated beneficiary is an entity, like a charity, trust, or estate.

When an annuity is written, whose life expectancy is taken into account?

An annuity’s payouts are typically based on the annuitant’s life expectancy, the individual whose life the annuity contract is structured around.

Are annuities protected from creditors in California?

In California, annuities are generally protected from creditors to a certain extent, especially if they are part of an IRA or other qualified retirement plan. However, this protection can vary depending on the specific circumstances, such as the type of debt and annuity, so consulting with a legal professional is advisable.

At what point does the beneficiary of an annuity acquire rights in the contract?

The beneficiary to an annuity typically acquires rights in the contract upon the death of the annuitant or owner, depending on the contract’s terms. Their rights are generally limited to receiving benefits defined in the contract, such as continuing payments or a lump sum, as stipulated in the agreement.

When does an annuity not pay a death benefit?

An annuity doesn’t pay the beneficiary when the annuitant outlives the fund, selects a life-only plan, or exhausts the annuity before passing away.

What is a guaranteed minimum death benefit?

A Guaranteed Minimum Death Benefit is a protective feature typically found in particular life insurance policies and variable annuities. Its primary function is to ensure that, no matter how your investments perform, your beneficiaries will receive at least a predetermined minimum amount upon your death.

Can a beneficiary of a fixed-period annuity change how they receive their money?

The payment method to a beneficiary is typically set by the terms of the original annuity contract and cannot be changed.

How long can an annuity beneficiary receive payments?

Beneficiaries receive payments for the term specified in the annuity contract, which could be a fixed period or for life.

How long do I have to cash in an annuity after the annuitant’s death?

The timeframe to cash in an annuity varies but often falls between 1 and 10 years per contract terms and state laws.

What happens if an annuity beneficiary is incapacitated?

If a beneficiary is incapacitated, a legal guardian or someone with power of attorney will manage and receive the annuity payments on their behalf.

When must a beneficiary take payment from an annuity?

A beneficiary must start taking payments from an annuity as specified in the original contract, which could be immediately after the annuitant’s death or after a certain deferral period.

Which annuities avoid probate?

The two types of annuities that can avoid probate are joint and beneficiary annuities. Two individuals purchase joint annuities and provide a guaranteed income stream for the rest of their lives.

What happens if an annuitant dies during the distribution period?

If an annuitant dies during the distribution period, the remaining funds in the annuity may be passed on to a designated beneficiary. The beneficiary can receive the funds as a lump sum or continue receiving regular distributions. The specific options and tax implications will depend on the annuity contract terms and applicable laws.

What happens to interest earned if the annuitant dies?

When an annuitant dies, the interest earned on the annuity is handled differently based on the type of annuity. In most cases, with a fixed period or joint and survivor annuity, the interest continues to be paid out to the surviving beneficiaries. However, the interest typically stops with a life annuity, and no further payments are made.

Do I have to pay taxes on an inherited annuity of my deceased father?

Yes, taxes may need to be paid on an inherited annuity from a deceased father. The tax liability depends on various factors, including the value of the annuity, the individual’s tax bracket, and any applicable tax exemptions or deductions. It is advisable to consult with a tax professional for accurate guidance tailored to the specific situation.

What is a non-spouse inherited annuity?

A non-spouse inherited annuity refers to a retirement account passed on to a beneficiary not the deceased’s spouse. This type of annuity requires the beneficiary to take distributions, either as a lump sum or spread over their life expectancy. Non-spouse inherited annuities are subject to different tax rules compared to spousal beneficiaries.

Do all annuities have a death benefit?

Yes, some annuities offer a death benefit, but not all. A death benefit is a feature that ensures a payout to the annuitant’s beneficiary if they pass away before the annuity payments are exhausted. However, the availability and terms of the death benefit may vary depending on the specific annuity contract.

Which type of annuity stops all payments upon the death of the annuitant?

A type of annuity that stops all payments upon the annuitant’s death is a life-only annuity. With this option, the annuity payments cease once the annuitant passes away, without any further benefits or payments being made to beneficiaries.

What are the annuity beneficiary payout options?

Annuity beneficiary payout options refer to how the funds from an annuity contract can be distributed to the beneficiary after the annuity holder’s death. These options typically include lump-sum payments, periodic payments, or the option to continue the annuity. The choice depends on the preferences and financial goals of the beneficiary.

What is a variable annuity death benefit?

A variable annuity death benefit is a feature offered by insurance companies that guarantees a minimum payout to the beneficiary upon the annuity holder’s death. This benefit provides financial security to loved ones and ensures the invested funds are not lost. Understanding the terms and conditions of the death benefit before investing in a variable annuity.

How are annuities taxed at death?

Annuities are subject to taxes upon the annuitant’s death. The tax treatment depends on whether the annuity is held in a qualified or non-qualified account. The funds are subject to income tax in a qualified account, such as a 401(k) or IRA. In a non-qualified account, the annuity’s earnings are taxed as ordinary income, while the original principal is not subject to taxation. It’s important to consult a tax professional for specific guidance on how annuities are taxed at death.

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Shawn Plummer is a licensed financial professional, insurance agent, and annuity broker with over 14 years of first-hand experience with annuities and insurance. Since beginning his journey in 2009, he has been pivotal in selling and educating about annuities and insurance products. Still, he has also played an instrumental role in training financial advisors for a prestigious Fortune Global 500 insurance company, Allianz. His insights and expertise have made him a sought-after voice in the industry, leading to features in renowned publications such as Time Magazine, Bloomberg, Entrepreneur, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, Women’s Health Magazine, and many more. Shawn’s driving ambition? To simplify retirement planning, he ensures his clients understand their choices and secure the best insurance coverage at unbeatable rates.

The Annuity Expert is an independent online insurance agency servicing consumers across the United States. The goal is to help you take the guesswork out of retirement planning and find the best insurance coverage at the cheapest rates

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