How are life insurance proceeds taxed?

Taxes, Insurance
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June 2018

Generally, life insurance death benefits that are paid out to a beneficiary in lump sum are not included as income to the recipient of the life insurance payout. This tax-free exclusion also covers death benefits payment made under endowment contracts, worker's compensation insurance contracts, employer's group plans or accident and health insurance contracts.

If a policy is combined with a non-refund life annuity contract where a single premium is equal to the face value of the insurance is paid, then the exclusion does not apply. If the death benefit face value is $250,000 (for example), and the beneficiary elects to receive monthly payments instead of the lump sum amount, the additional interest received above the $250,000 face amount is taxable.

Estate Inclusion

While life insurance death benefits are generally excluded from income tax to the beneficiary, they are included as part of the estate of the deceased if the deceased was the owner of the policy at the time of death. This inclusion as part of the estate may subject the benefit paid to estate taxes both at the federal and state levels.

Estate inclusion can be avoided if the owner of the life insurance policy is someone other than the deceased. This assignment, however, must have occurred more than three years prior to the date of death or the IRS will still consider the deceased as the policy owner for estate tax purposes.

To learn more, read: How to Avoid Taxation on Life Insurance Proceeds.

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