Understanding Your Life Insurance Settlement Options

Estate planning in La Jolla, University City – UTC, and San Diego

By Amy Hsiao

Oct 14

Following the death of the policy holder, the way in which proceeds from a life insurance policy are paid to the beneficiary (or beneficiaries) is known as the settlement option. And you might be surprised to learn that there are a variety of settlement options available besides the most common method—a lump-sum payout.
 
Depending on the life insurance company and policy, these options may be selected by the policy holder ahead of time or chosen by the beneficiary upon the insured’s death. Whether you’re the policy holder or beneficiary, it’s important that you understand these options in order to maximize the policy’s financial benefit and reduce potential taxes.

Here are six popular life-insurance settlement options:

1. Lump sum: The beneficiary receives the full death benefit all at once in a single payment.

2. Interest Income: The insurance company retains the original death benefit and makes interest-only payments to the beneficiary. The original benefit may be paid in full to the beneficiary after a certain time period or to a contingent (alternate) beneficiary upon the primary beneficiary’s death. 

3. Fixed Amount: The beneficiary is paid a fixed amount on a regular basis until the total death benefit (plus any interest accrued) has been paid out. If the beneficiary dies before all of the funds have been paid, a contingent beneficiary may receive the remaining amount.

4. Fixed Period:  The beneficiary receives regular payments of both principal and interest over a fixed period of time, typically up to 30 years. If the beneficiary dies before the time period is over, the remaining balance may pass to a contingent beneficiary.


5. Life Income: The beneficiary receives guaranteed payments over the remainder of his or her life. The amount of the payments is determined by the insurance company and based on the beneficiary’s age and gender. The payments continue until the beneficiary dies. If he or she dies earlier than expected, the insurance company keeps the unpaid amount. 

6. Life Income Period Certain: Unlike the life income option above, where payments stop when the beneficiary dies, this option guarantees fixed payments for a certain time period such as 10 or 20 years. If the beneficiary dies before the term expires, a contingent beneficiary may receive the remaining payments.

What about taxes?

Life insurance payouts made in a lump sum are not subject to income taxes. With other settlement options that pay out in installments over time, the original death benefit (principal) is not taxed, but any interest that accrues IS taxed as income when it is paid to the beneficiary.

Choosing a settlement option

We can advise you on the settlement option that’s best suited for your particular needs. We can also support you in putting in place planning tools like trusts to protect the proceeds once they’re paid out. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today to learn more.

Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact us to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session. Even if you already have a plan in place, we will review it and help you bring it up to date to avoid heartache for your family. Schedule online today.