Is Life Insurance Taxable?

min read
Updated: 17 May 2024
Written by
Lacey Jackson-Matsushima
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Most of the time, life insurance payouts are tax-free when received by the beneficiary. However, before you start daydreaming about what to do with the money, it’s essential to note that there are some exceptions.

In certain situations, taxes may apply, such as if you earn interest on the payout or if the policy owner had significant assets. To steer clear of any unpleasant surprises, it’s crucial to understand when and how these taxes can come into play. By doing so, you’ll be able to make the most of your life insurance benefits without any unnecessary financial setbacks.

Key Takeaways

  • When you inherit money from a life insurance policy, you usually won’t have to pay taxes on it.

  • If the policy earned any interest, you might have to fork over some of that hard-earned cash to the taxman.

  • Be aware that if the policyholder named an estate as the beneficiary, you could end up paying estate taxes.

  • To ensure that your loved ones receive the benefits they deserve, make sure you have listed your beneficiaries correctly on your life insurance policy.

  • Want to avoid any taxes on your life insurance proceeds? Consider transferring ownership of the policy to someone else or an entity.

A summary of when life insurance is taxable

Sample situation What’s taxable?
You’re a beneficiary who chooses to receive the payout in installments, therefore earning interest. The interest amount.
The life insurance payout is rolled into your estate. The amount that exceeds the IRS’ estate tax threshold for this year (in 2022, that’s $12.06 million for individuals and $24.12 million for married couples).
You withdraw money from your policy’s cash value, with no intention of paying it back. The amount you get above the policy basis, which is the premiums you paid minus the dividends you received.
You take out a cash value loan against your policy. As long as your policy is in force, nothing.
You surrender a policy for cash. The amount you get above the policy basis.
You sell your life insurance policy. Cash value above the policy basis (income tax) and any other profits from the sale (capital gains tax).

Is a life insurance payout taxable?

Typically, life insurance death benefits are a tax-free way to help secure the financial future of your loved ones.

But there are some cases where the taxman might come knocking. Let’s take a closer look at when you might need to be prepared to pay taxes on your life insurance death benefit.

When There Are More Than Two Parties Involved

When it comes to life insurance premiums, the main players are the policy owner, the beneficiary, and the insured person. But who’s responsible for the taxes? Let’s find out.

If the policy owner and the insured person are one and the same, then your policy is typically not taxable.

If a third person is involved, like a beneficiary who isn’t the policy owner or insured person, taxes might apply.

For instance, imagine a father purchases a life insurance policy for his son and names the mother as the beneficiary. If the policy pays out, the mother could end up with a tax bill.

So, be aware of who’s involved in your life insurance policy to avoid any unpleasant surprises come tax time.

Estate Tax

Death and taxes – the two certainties in life. But did you know that your life insurance proceeds might be subject to estate taxes? Here’s what you need to know.

An estate tax is a tax on your transfer of property, when you pass away.

If your estate is valued above a certain threshold, you could end up owing taxes on the transfer of your property, including any life insurance payouts.

But here’s where things get even trickier: some investors make the mistake of naming their estate as the beneficiary of their life insurance policy, IRA, or annuity. Not only does this complicate the probate process, but it could also increase your estate’s value and lead to higher estate taxes for your heirs.

So, choose your life insurance beneficiary wisely, and be sure to consult with a financial professional to minimize any potential tax burden.

Inheritance Tax

The inheritance tax is a tax levied on the recipient of an inheritance, including cash payouts, properties, and other assets. But before you start worrying about losing out, it’s important to note that not all states impose this tax.

Currently, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania are the only states that enforce the inheritance tax. So, if you’re lucky enough to live elsewhere, you can breathe a little easier when it comes to your inheritance.

Interest Income

Did you know that interest earned on life insurance proceeds is generally taxable? It’s true!

When a beneficiary receives life insurance proceeds after a period of interest accumulation, they’ll be on the hook for taxes – but not on the entire benefit, just the interest that’s been earned.

So, while life insurance payouts themselves are typically tax-free, it’s important to keep in mind that any interest earned may be subject to taxation. As always, it’s a good idea to speak with a financial professional to fully understand your tax obligations.

Is the cash value in life insurance policies taxable?

In most cases, life insurance payouts are tax-free. But if your policy’s cash value exceeds a certain amount, you may be subject to estate or generation-skipping tax. And if you live in Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maryland, or Pennsylvania, watch out for the inheritance tax, which could eat into your life insurance proceeds. Remember, each state has its own tax guidelines.

When You Withdraw Money from a Cash Value Life Insurance Policy

Investing in a cash value life insurance policy is a smart move to ensure your loved ones are financially secure if something happens to you. But did you know you can access the money early through a loan or partial withdrawal?

However, be warned that taking out a loan against the cash value may result in interest payments and a decrease in benefits over time. And if you choose to make a partial withdrawal, you may have to surrender the policy altogether to use the money as you please.

Keep in mind that any money you take out will be deducted from your final life insurance payout, so plan accordingly. The good news is that you won’t be taxed on any cash outs that are less than the amount you paid into your premium.

When You Sell a Life Insurance Policy

Selling your life insurance policy may seem like a good idea, but it’s important to know the tax implications before you make a decision. When you sell your policy, the broker facilitating the sale will take a portion of the selling price, and if the profits are worth more than what you have paid so far, you may have to pay income taxes on the life insurance payout.

However, if you’re terminally ill, a viatical settlement could be a tax-free option. This arrangement allows you to invest in and purchase a life insurance policy that is worth less than the death benefit, so you can receive a payout before you pass away. Just keep in mind that the tax exemption only applies if the policy is being sold for less than the amount that has been paid into it.

When You Surrender a Life Insurance Policy

Surrendering your life insurance policy can come with a price, and not just in the form of lost coverage. Surrender fees may apply, which can eat into the cash value of your policy. On top of that, you’ll need to be prepared to pay income taxes on any money you receive from the policy. That’s because the cash value of a life insurance policy is considered taxable income once you surrender it.

When Your Life Insurance Policy Goes into a Taxable Estate

Missing or incorrect beneficiary information on your life insurance policy can lead to your benefits going into a taxable estate. This means that a significant chunk of your hard-earned money could end up in Uncle Sam’s pockets.

Fortunately, there’s a federal threshold of $11.7 million that is not taxed, meaning that you can protect your beneficiaries from paying hefty taxes on your life insurance benefits. But, be warned, anything above this amount is fair game for taxation.

However, state regulations also play a significant role in determining how much of your life insurance benefits will be taxed. Depending on where you live, the threshold may be lower, and your beneficiaries could end up with even less money. So, it’s crucial to check your state’s regulations and ensure that your beneficiaries are properly designated to avoid any unwanted tax surprises.

Are life insurance dividends taxable?

Did you know that you might have to pay taxes on the dividends from your life insurance policy? While the IRS generally treats them as a refund of your premiums, any interest gained from holding the dividends in an account will be taxed as income. Plus, if you receive more in dividends than what you’ve already paid in premiums, you might be on the hook for additional taxes.

Is group term life insurance taxable?

If your policy is worth less than $50,000, you don’t have to worry about taxable premiums. However, if your coverage exceeds $50,000 and your employer covers part or all of the cost, the premiums will be subject to income tax.

Here’s the catch: the IRS considers your employer’s payments for life insurance premiums as part of your compensation. So, only the portion of the premium that pays for coverage exceeding $50,000 is taxed. Don’t panic though – some employers increase your income to account for the tax.

Is term life insurance taxable?

Let’s face it, nobody likes thinking about taxes when it comes to life insurance. But it’s important to understand when and if taxes may apply to your policy’s death benefit.

If you’re the beneficiary of a term life insurance policy and receive the death benefit as a lump sum, you’re in luck: the proceeds are generally not subject to income taxes. However, if you choose to receive the benefit in installments, any interest earned on the unpaid balance may be subject to taxes.

If the policyholder passes away and their estate is worth more than the federal estate tax threshold of $11.7 million, estate taxes must be paid on the excess amount. Additionally, some states have inheritance or estate taxes that may apply.

For those with a terminal illness, some policies offer an accelerated death benefit rider. This allows the policyholder to receive a portion of the death benefit before they pass away to cover expenses related to their illness. The good news is that this money is typically tax-free, but keep in mind that it will reduce the amount that your beneficiaries receive.

Is whole life insurance taxable?

Did you know that whole life insurance policies can have tax implications? While the death benefit from a whole life insurance policy is usually not subject to income taxes or estate taxes, there are certain circumstances where taxes may apply.

For instance, if you access the policy’s cash value by withdrawing money or taking out a loan, you might have to pay income taxes on any amount that exceeds your cumulative premium payments. Additionally, surrendering your policy to the insurer in exchange for a cash payment could also result in income taxes if the surrender proceeds exceed your cumulative premiums.

Another option is to sell your policy to a third party. However, if the sales proceeds exceed your cumulative premiums minus the cost of insurance, you may be subject to income taxes on the excess.

It’s important to understand the potential tax implications of your whole life insurance policy and how they may impact your financial planning. By staying informed, you can make more informed decisions about your life insurance coverage.

Is employer-paid group life insurance taxable?

If your policy’s death benefit is less than $50,000, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you won’t have to pay taxes on the value of your coverage. However, if your death benefit exceeds $50,000 and your employer pays for all or part of the premium, then you’ll be on the hook for income taxes on the portion that covers coverage above the $50,000 limit.

Is Life Insurance Tax Deductible?

When it comes to life insurance, you can’t deduct the premiums on your taxes since they’re considered a personal expense. But don’t let that discourage you from getting coverage, because there are still some tax benefits to be had.

If you’re a business owner, you might be able to deduct your life insurance premiums as a business expense. And that’s not all – the cash value of your policy grows tax-deferred, which means you don’t have to pay taxes on it until you withdraw the money.

This can be a huge advantage, allowing you to earn higher interest rates and keep more of your hard-earned cash. So even though life insurance premiums aren’t deductible, there are still plenty of reasons to consider getting coverage.

How to Avoid Paying Life Insurance Tax

Choosing the right beneficiary for your life insurance policy is crucial to ensure your loved ones receive the benefits you intended for them. But beware, making a common mistake like naming your estate as the beneficiary could lead to unexpected taxes and reduce the value of your hard-earned money.

To avoid this, we suggest you name an individual as your beneficiary. This reduces the likelihood of taxes being imposed and ensures that your intended recipient receives the benefits.

If you want to take it a step further and safeguard the cash value of your policy from being lumped into the estate value, you might consider an irrevocable life insurance trust. This legal arrangement ensures that the cash value of your policy is distributed among the beneficiaries listed in the trust, shielding them from taxes on life insurance benefits.

Making a wise decision about your life insurance beneficiary could make all the difference when it comes to protecting your loved ones.

Using an Ownership Transfer to Avoid Taxation

If you’re worried about the tax implications of your estate after you’re gone, there’s some good news: many estates won’t owe federal taxes. In fact, for those who passed away in 2022, the basic exclusion amount for an estate is $12.06 million, and for 2023, it’s $12.92 million. The top tax rate is capped at 40%.

However, for those estates that will owe taxes, life insurance proceeds may be included as part of the taxable estate. If you want to avoid federal taxation on your life insurance proceeds, you’ll need to transfer ownership of your policy to another person or entity.

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re considering an ownership transfer:

First, choose a competent adult or entity to be the new owner (it could be the policy beneficiary), then contact your insurance company for the proper forms. The new owner will be responsible for paying the premiums on the policy, but you can gift up to $16,000 per person in 2022 and $17,000 in 2023 to help cover those costs.

It’s important to remember that an ownership transfer is an irrevocable event, so make sure you choose wisely. If a child, family member, or friend is named the new owner, they can make changes to the policy at your request.

One last thing to keep in mind: obtain written confirmation from your insurance company as proof of the ownership change, and beware of divorce situations when planning to name the new owner.

Gift Tax

Did you know that if you’re the insured and policy owner of a life insurance policy, you could face gift tax consequences if you name a different person as the beneficiary? That’s right, if the beneficiary is not the same as the policy owner or insured, the IRS may view it as a gift, and you could end up owing gift tax on the amount!

But don’t worry, if you pass away, the beneficiary won’t have to pay gift tax unless the amount exceeds $12.92 million (in 2023), including any gifts made of more than $17,000 a year (in 2023).

Just keep in mind that if you transfer ownership of your policy and pass away within three years, the full amount of the death benefit could be included in your estate as if you still owned it.

Using Life Insurance Trusts to Avoid Taxation

One solution is to establish an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). With this option, the policy is held in trust, and you are no longer the owner. That means the proceeds won’t be included in your estate, so you won’t have to worry about taxes.

But why choose a trust over transferring ownership to someone else? There are several reasons. For one, you might want to maintain some legal control over the policy. Plus, if you transfer ownership to an individual, there’s a risk they might not pay the premiums. But with an ILIT, you can ensure that all premiums are paid on time.

Another reason to choose a trust is if you have minor children from a previous marriage who are beneficiaries. You can name a trusted family member as trustee to manage the money for the children according to the terms of the trust document. So, if you want to protect your loved ones and avoid taxes, an ILIT may be the right choice for you.

Regulations on Life Insurance Policy Ownership

The IRS has strict rules when it comes to who owns a life insurance policy after the insured individual passes away. Known as the “three-year rule,” any gifts of life insurance policies made within three years of death are still subject to federal estate tax, whether the policy was transferred to another individual or placed into an ILIT.

In order for the transfer to be considered legitimate, the original policy owner must relinquish all legal rights to make changes to the policy, including selecting beneficiaries or taking out loans against the policy. They also cannot pay the premiums to keep the policy active, as these actions are considered ownership of the assets and can negate the tax benefits of transferring the policy.

But even if all the requirements are met, there’s still a chance that some of the transferred assets may be subject to taxation. If the current cash value of the policy exceeds the gift tax exclusion of $16,000 in 2022 and $17,000 in 2023, gift taxes will be assessed and due upon the policyholder’s death. It’s important to be aware of these rules and requirements when considering transferring ownership of a life insurance policy.

Do I report proceeds paid under a life insurance contract as taxable income?

Did you know that in most cases, life insurance proceeds received as a beneficiary due to the death of the insured person aren’t considered as part of your gross income, and therefore, you don’t have to report them to the IRS? However, it’s important to note that any interest earned on the proceeds is taxable and must be reported as interest income.

If you received the policy as a transfer for cash or other valuable consideration, there’s a limit to the amount of proceeds that can be excluded from taxes. This limit is the sum of the consideration you paid, additional premiums you paid, and certain other amounts.

There are some exceptions to this rule, and the taxable amount you report will depend on the type of income document you receive, such as a Form 1099-INT or Form 1099-R. For more detailed information, check out the IRS Publication 525, Taxable and Nontaxable Income, and the Are the Life Insurance Proceeds I Received Taxable? page on the IRS website.


Is life insurance over 50,000 taxable?

If the total amount of your life insurance policies is less than $50,000, you won’t have to worry about any tax consequences. However, if your coverage exceeds $50,000, you will need to include the imputed cost of coverage in your income. Don’t worry, the IRS provides a handy Premium Table to help you with the calculations.

Keep in mind that the imputed cost of coverage over $50,000 is also subject to social security and Medicare taxes. So, it’s important to take these factors into consideration when assessing the value of your life insurance coverage.

Do you have to pay taxes on money received as a beneficiary?

Inheriting money or property can be a great financial boost, but it’s important to know the potential tax implications. While most inheritances are not subject to income tax, there are a few exceptions to be aware of.

One exception is retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs. If the original owner of the account received a tax deduction when contributing to the account, then any money inherited from the account is taxable income. So, if you’re lucky enough to inherit a retirement account, don’t forget to factor in potential taxes when planning how to use the money.

How can I avoid paying taxes on life insurance?

One way to avoid this is by transferring ownership of your policy to someone else or an entity. By doing so, you can ensure that the proceeds of your policy won’t be taxed by the federal government.

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