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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Taxes on life insurance death benefits

Lump sum payments from life insurance payments, payable upon death are not taxable so long as they do not exceed the present value of the policy. For example, if person X holds a life insurance with beneficiary Y listed to receive $100,000.00 in the event of death before a certain age and under certain circumstances only, then the present value of the policy is $100,000.000 and will be not taxable. However, any cash value the policy has accumulated will be surrendered in the event of a face value payout.

There are instances in which life insurance death benefits are taxable. Specifically in cases of   interest earned and  estate taxation benefits. Since payout of insurance death benefits may be received in installments, additional interest may accumulate on the value retained by the life insurance company. Additionally, in the case of estate taxation, the death benefits are not taxable as income ,but rather as estate taxes. According to the eHow Finance video below, 99 percent of the time death benefits are not taxable. However, there are a couple of instances in which they are:

Taxation of interest on death benefits

Any amount of interest earned and paid out to the life insurance beneficiary that is over and above the face value of the insurance policy is taxable as income. Depending on how that interest is accumulated i.e. through which financial instruments can have an influence on the taxation levels of the additional income. For example, if the interest is earned through ownership of company stock that pays qualified dividends, that interest may be taxed at either 5% or 15% depending on the income level of the recipient. Or the interest may not be paid out, in which case it could be classified as tax deferred income.

Estate taxation on benefits

If an insured person dies an the face value of the insurance death benefits are less than $1-$3.5 million depending on the year, no estate taxes may be payable. However, if there are other assets in the estate, any amount over the tax exempt amount may be taxable.

When an insurance holder passes away, an Estate tax return may have to be filed prior to the nearest following tax filing deadline. Specifically, an IRS form 706 Schedule D may be needed to be filled out along with the other required information of the form 706.

In some cases, estate taxation may be avoided through the use of specific trusts such as an AB Trust, QTIP trust or Life Insurance trust. In the case of a life insurance trust, life insurance proceeds may be withdrawn without estate taxation and in the case of an AB trust, the value of the state is divided making the total estate value lower for the surviving relatives and hence less likely to be taxable under estate regulations.

Multiple insurance policy death benefits and additional tax tips 

In some cases there may be a number of insurance policies in existence including but not limited to auto insurance, employer insurance, and one or more types of life insurance. In such cases, the amount of the total proceeds may exceed the tax exempt estate limit, making any amount above that limit potentially taxable. To limit taxation in such instances as above, it may be advantageous to utilize one or more of the following techniques:

• Establish Trusts: i.e. charitable, AB, or life insurance, credit
• Hold assets in a family owned business
• Life insurance benefits may be payable into a shared annuity insurance policy, in which case the payments are distributed as an annuity  and avoid estate tax and/or are tax deferred income.
• Charitable contributions up to $12,000 per beneficiary may lower the estate value enough to be non taxable.
• Consult an attorney practiced in Estate law
• Seek the advice of a licensed Tax Accountant
• Contact the Internal Revenue Service for answers to additional questions.
• Research applicable laws, tax code, forms and methods of taxation.

Taxes on life insurance death benefits are for the most part payable through estate taxation, rather than income taxation except in cases of interest income on deferred payments. Additionally, if the total face value of death payout insurance is less than the pre-determined estate tax minimum taxable amount, then the death payout may not be taxable assuming no other income that causes the estate value to rise above the taxable minimum is realized through the estate. It may be possible more than one insurance benefit becomes payable in which case the use of trusts such as Life insurance trusts may be beneficial from a tax perspective.


1. http://www.irs.gov/publications/p525/ar02.html#d0e5141
2. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f706.pdf
3. http://www.ins.state.ny.us/que_top10/que_life_who.htm
4. http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,id=108143,00.html
5. http://www.nolo.com/article.cfm/ObjectID/DAC2BB31-35E4-43B2-9BDFA70AD3775418/
6. http://law.freeadvice.com/estate_planning/asset_protection/techniques_estate_taxes.htm