Do beneficiaries pay taxes on life insurance policies?

In general, beneficiaries do not need to pay taxes on the life insurance death benefit they receive, especially if they receive it as a lump sum.

However, if a beneficiary chooses to receive their payout as an annuity (a series of payments over several years) instead of a lump sum, any interest accrued by the annuity account may be subject to taxes.

How do taxes on life insurance affect estate planning?

Life insurance proceeds may be included in the deceased's estate. If the value of the estate exceeds the federal estate tax threshold, which was $12.92 million as of 2023, estate taxes must be paid on the amount that's over the limit. Some states also assess inheritance or estate taxes, depending on the estate's value and where the deceased lived. Learn more about life insurance and estate planning.

Some insurers offer accelerated death benefit riders that allow the policyholder to access part of the policy's death benefit while they're alive to help pay for expenses related to a terminal illness. If you use the policy's accelerated death benefit, you don't have to pay income taxes on the money you receive, but it will reduce the amount your beneficiary gets when you die.

Is term life insurance taxable?

Typically, the death benefit from a term life insurance policy isn't subject to income taxes when the beneficiary receives the proceeds as a lump sum. But interest accrued by an annuity account may be subject to taxes.

Is whole life insurance taxable?

Like a term life insurance policy, the death benefit from whole life insurance usually isn't subject to income taxes unless you receive the payout in installments. It's also not subject to estate taxes unless the value of the estate exceeds the estate tax threshold.

But if you access the policy's cash value, surrender your policy to the insurer, or sell it to a third party, you might have to pay income taxes.

  • Taxable cash value

    When you buy whole life insurance, your premium is split between a cash value account and the policy's life insurance costs. As the cash value increases, you can choose to withdraw money or take out a loan against it. If you withdraw more than your cumulative premium payments, you may have to pay income taxes on the excess.

    In addition, most whole life policies allow you to borrow against the cash value. If you take out a loan and the loan is still outstanding when the policy is terminated, the loan amount in excess of the cumulative premiums may be subject to income taxes.

  • Taxes when surrendering your policy

    If you no longer want to keep your life insurance policy, you can surrender it to the insurance company in exchange for a cash payment. Note that some companies might charge you a surrender fee to complete this transaction.

    If you surrender the policy and your surrender proceeds exceed the cumulative premiums, the excess may be subject to income taxes. But if the surrender value is less than the cumulative premiums you paid for the policy, you likely won't pay income taxes on the cash payment you receive from the insurer.

  • Taxes when selling your policy

    You can also sell your policy to a third party if you no longer want it. If the sales proceeds exceed your cumulative premiums, minus the portion of your premiums attributed to the cost of insurance, the excess may be subject to income taxes.

Is employer-paid group life insurance taxable?

Some companies offer group life insurance to employees as a supplemental benefit. According to the IRS, if you have less than $50,000 in coverage through your employer, you won't be responsible for paying taxes on the value of the coverage. But if the death benefit is greater than $50,000, the employer-paid premiums for coverage over $50,000 are subject to income taxes.

Compare life insurance rates and coverages

Quote life insurance online and choose your coverage amount, term length, and other policy details. You can also call 1-866-912-2477 to speak with a licensed Progressive Life by eFinancial representative who can help you find the right policy for you.