Is Life Insurance Taxable?

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

Regarding life insurance, many misconceptions exist about whether the proceeds are taxable. The answer is…it depends. This guide will discuss when life insurance payouts are and are not taxable. We will also provide tips on minimizing the taxes you must pay on your life insurance payout.

Are Life Insurance Proceeds Taxable?

Can life insurance be taxed? Generally, the money you get from life insurance when someone dies is not part of your gross income, and you don’t have to report it.

Is life insurance part of an estate? If the estate is named the beneficiary or there are no living designated beneficiaries, yes. However, any money you receive is taxable from the cash value (if any). So report it as interest and pay the taxes.

The taxable amount is the interest you make, so you report it on an income tax form. There are different forms for different types of income, like Form 1099-INT or Form 1099-R.

Are Life Insurance Proceeds Taxable To The Estate

Is Life Insurance Part Of An Estate?

The answer is no. Life insurance proceeds are typically not part of an estate. When a person purchases a life insurance policy, they name a beneficiary to receive the death benefit in the event of their death. The beneficiary designation overrides any instructions in the person’s will or trust. This means that the life insurance proceeds go directly to the beneficiary and are not subject to probate or included in the person’s estate.

Exceptions to the Rule

While life insurance proceeds are typically not considered part of an estate, some rare exceptions remain. For example, if a deceased individual owns their policy, any resulting payouts may be subject to paying estate taxes. Moreover, suppose someone names their estate as the beneficiary for a given policy. In that case, those funds could also be included in probate and form part of the overall assets contained in an inherited estate.

Do Beneficiaries Pay Taxes on Life Insurance Policies?

No, beneficiaries do not have to pay life insurance policy payouts taxes. This is because life insurance benefits are not considered taxable income. So, if you are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy, you will receive the total death benefit amount without paying any taxes. Additionally, life insurance benefits can be used for any purpose, so you can use the money to cover expenses related to the death, such as funeral costs or outstanding debts.

The Lump Sum Payout

In most circumstances, the proceeds from a life insurance policy are not taxed as long as the proceeds are taken immediately.

The proceeds will not be taxed if you name a person as the life insurance policy beneficiary. So with that said, if you are a beneficiary inheriting a death benefit from a life insurance policy, the proceeds are most likely tax-free.

Interest Earned Over Time

If the beneficiaries receive the life insurance proceeds after some time, the interest earned over time is taxable, not the original benefit.

Federal Estate Taxes and Inheritance Taxes

When you name the estate as your beneficiary, you surrender the contract’s benefit of naming a natural person and subject the financial instrument to probate, a legal procedure for distributing assets after death. Giving belongings to your estate also raises the value of your estate, possibly resulting in very high inheritance taxes.

IRS Code Section 2042 states that if the proceeds are payable to your estate, either directly or indirectly, or to named beneficiaries if you had any “incidents of ownership” in the policy at the time of death, the value of life insurance benefits insuring your life is included in your gross estate.

Transferring Ownership

Can you get life insurance on anyone? Yes, you can. If you want your life insurance death benefit to avoid taxes, you must transfer ownership of the policy to another person or entity.

Here are a few things to keep in mind while conducting an ownership transfer:

  • Select someone qualified to be the new owner.
  • The new owners must pay the premiums on the insurance.
  • You will forego the opportunity to make any future changes to this policy.
  • When choosing a new life insurance policy owner, consider divorce situations.
  • Get a written statement from your insurance company as proof of the ownership change.

Avoid Taxation by Using Life Insurance Trusts

To get rid of life insurance money from your taxable estate, you can establish an irreversible life insurance trust (ILIT). You cannot be the trustee of the trust and retain any rights to terminate it. The policy is in the trust, and you will no longer be considered the owner. As a result, the funds are not considered part of your estate.

Are Life Insurance Policies Taxable

Income Earned From Life Insurance Interest

Taxes are significant. When someone earns interest, they have to pay taxes on it. Life insurance is no exception.

  • Life Insurance Proceeds At Death = Tax-Free
  • Interest From Cash Value While Alive = Taxable

Inheritance Taxes From An Estate

Are life insurance proceeds included in gross estate? It would be best if you did not name the estate your beneficiary. When you do, you can’t leave items to a person like a friend or family member. You also might have to go through probate. Doing this increases the value of your estate, and it could mean higher taxes for your heirs.

Section 2042 of the Internal Revenue Code says that if you have life insurance and pay money to your estate, it is included in your taxable gross estate.

Avoiding Taxation Using an Ownership Transfer

The new federal tax law has a higher exemption amount. The exemption will be $11.4 million in 2019 and $11.5 million for 2020 and 2021. It also has a lower maximum estate tax rate of 40%.

If you want your life insurance to avoid taxes, transfer it to another person or entity before you die.

Ownership Transfer Guidelines

  • Find someone who can be the new owner. Then call your insurance company to get the proper forms to designate the new owner.
  • The new owners have to pay for the insurance. But they can gift up to $15,000 per person in 2020. That means the person who gets this money could use it to pay their premiums.
  • This policy means that you will not be able to change it later. But if you name another person the new owner, they can change the policy at your request.
  • Beware of divorce situations when planning to name the new owner. The original owners can’t change their minds after they do it.
  • Obtain written confirmation from your insurance company.

Avoiding Taxation Using Life Insurance Trusts

Are life insurance proceeds taxable to a trust? Another strategy for keeping life insurance proceeds out of your taxable estate is to set up an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). This means you can’t be the trustee and forfeit all rights. Utilizing this strategy, the policy will no longer show as part of your estate.

Trust Ownership vs. Individual Ownership

An ILIT is a trust for insurance policies. You can put the insurance policy in the trust, which means that someone else will take care of paying premiums. But you remain in some control and do not have to worry about the new individual owner being unable to pay the premiums.

Helpful Tip: If you need help setting a legal trust or will without costing a ton of money, we recommend:

Is Life Insurance Part Of The Estate?

Life Insurance Regulations

The IRS provides rules to determine who owns life insurance policies if an insured person dies. According to a regulation known as the three-year rule, gifts of life insurance made within three years of death are still liable for the federal estate tax. This applies both to transfers of ownership and establishing ILITs.

The IRS looks at any incidents of ownership by the person who transfers the policy. When you transfer a policy, you lose the right to change your beneficiaries, borrow against it, surrender it, or cancel it.

Another requirement is you must not pay any premiums to maintain the account in force.

When considering whether to make a policy transfer as a gift, it’s essential to consider the tax implications. For example, if the value of the transferred assets is more than $15,000 and becomes taxable, taxes will be assessed and due at the time of death.

Are Life Insurance Premiums Tax-Deductible?

Is life insurance tax deductible for a Limited Liability Company (LLC)? In the traditional sense, life insurance premiums are not tax-deductible.

Can Life Insurance Be A Business Expense?

Life insurance premiums can be tax-deductible as a business expense if the insured is an employee or corporate officer and the company is not the life insurance policy beneficiary.

Employers offering group term life coverage to employees can deduct the first $50,000 benefits they pay each employee. This does not count as income for the employee.

Are Life Insurance Dividends Taxable?

This is taxable income if you have more money from your dividends than the total premium payments. In addition, if you leave your money with the insurance company, that interest earned will also be considered taxable.

Provide Tax-Free Proceeds To Your Beneficiary

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Next Steps

So, is life insurance taxable? In most cases, no. However, tax laws are complex and ever-changing, so getting professional help is essential when planning your estate. Our company has life insurance and taxes experts who can help you understand how the two intersect. We also offer free quotes on life insurance policies, so please get in touch with us if you have any questions or want more information. Thank you for reading this guide, and we hope it has helped clarify some of the tax implications of life insurance payouts.

Is Life Insurance Taxable

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are life insurance payouts taxed?

Generally, when you get life insurance money because someone died, the government doesn’t tax the money. But if you earn interest from the life insurance company, that is taxed, and you should report it as income.

Do you pay taxes on life insurance?

No, life insurance payouts are not subject to income tax. This means beneficiaries will receive 100% of the life insurance death benefit amount.

Can the IRS take money from life insurance?

No, the IRS cannot take money from life insurance. Life insurance proceeds are typically exempt from taxation.

Is life insurance over 50000 taxable?

No, life insurance over $50000 is not taxable. In addition, life insurance proceeds are typically exempt from taxation.

Can creditors go after life insurance?

No, creditors cannot go after life insurance. Life insurance proceeds are typically exempt from taxation.

Does a life insurance payout affect Social Security benefits?

No, a life insurance payout does not affect Social Security benefits.

How much money can you inherit without having to pay taxes on it?

No limit exists on how much money you can inherit from life insurance without paying taxes. Inherited money is typically not subject to taxation.

*Disclosure: Some of the links in this guide may be affiliate links. I may receive a commission at no cost if you purchase a policy. It helps us keep the lights on!

Shawn Plummer

CEO, The Annuity Expert

I’m a licensed financial professional focusing on annuities and insurance for more than a decade. My former role was training financial advisors, including for a Fortune Global 500 insurance company. I’ve been featured in Time Magazine, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, SmartAsset, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg, The Simple Dollar, U.S. News and World Report, and Women’s Health Magazine.

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

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