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Do Beneficiaries Pay Taxes on Life Insurance Policies?

Life insurance payouts aren’t usually taxable. But there are some exceptions you should be aware of if you have a policy or plan to purchase one. Let’s dive deeper into how beneficiaries and death benefits work, as well as when beneficiaries may need to pay taxes on life insurance.

What is a beneficiary of life insurance?

A beneficiary is a person or entity that you can name in a life insurance policy to receive your death benefit upon your passing. You may choose one beneficiary or multiple beneficiaries, such as your spouse, adult children, a charity you believe in, a trust, or even a business. There are virtually no rules that restrict who you can pick. Additionally, you may change your beneficiary if you need to.1

What is a life insurance death benefit?

The amount of money your insurance company will pay out to your beneficiaries if you pass away during your policy’s term is known as the death benefit. While the death benefit is typically paid out in a lump sum, your beneficiaries can choose other payment options. The amount they’ll receive depends on the face value of your policy minus any withdrawals from your cash value account or policy loans you didn’t repay.2

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Does a beneficiary pay taxes on a life insurance payout?

In many cases, the money your beneficiaries receive from a life insurance payout is not taxed as income. However, there are a few exceptions that we’ll go over below.

Instances where beneficiaries may have to pay taxes on life insurance

Some common situations where beneficiaries might owe taxes on life insurance include:3

The policy accrued interest

If life insurance proceeds have accumulated some interest, taxes are usually due. Fortunately, the amount that earned interest will be taxed, rather than the entire death benefit.

The policyholder names the estate as a beneficiary

In the event a policyholder chose their estate as a life insurance beneficiary, taxes might apply. The taxes loved ones may pay depend on the estate’s value.

The insured and the policy owner are different individuals

The person that buys a life insurance policy is usually considered the owner and insured. But if a different person holds each role, there may be taxes involved.

Ways to avoid paying taxes on a life insurance payout

Fortunately, there are some strategies beneficiaries can use to avoid paying taxes on a life insurance payout, such as:3

Use an ownership transfer

When an estate is involved, whether life insurance proceeds are taxable is based on the policy’s ownership when the insured passes away. To avoid taxation, you can transfer ownership of your policy to another person or entity.

Create an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT)

If you set up an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT), it will own the life insurance policy rather than you. This means the proceeds will not be included in your estate. You can state how you’d like the beneficiaries to receive or use the payout.

Avoid the gift tax

A gift tax comes into play if the life insurance policy’s cash value is higher than the gift tax exemption, which is $12.92 million or $17,000 per year as of 2023.3 It’s a good idea to ensure your cash value does not exceed this amount.

Get a life insurance quote

A death benefit can protect your loved ones financially upon your passing. The good news is that it’s not taxable in many cases. However, there are several exceptions you should know about and keep in mind when you set up your policy.

Aflac offers a variety of affordable term and whole life insurance plans that can help you meet your goals. Our plans come with fast and comprehensive coverage. Chat with an agent today to get a quote or more information.

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