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Is Life Insurance Taxable?


Life insurance is a great way to ensure financial security for your loved ones. However, one question that often arises is whether or not life insurance proceeds are taxable. In general, life insurance proceeds are not taxable, but there are some exceptions to the rule, so let’s explore how different types of policies may be treated for tax purposes.

When Is Life Insurance Not Taxable?

The simple rule of thumb is this: in most cases, life insurance proceeds are not taxable when received by the beneficiary.

Like spousal inheritance and personal gifts (subject to IRS limitations), the death benefit is commonly considered to be a tax-free inheritance. The beneficiary does not report the proceeds as income on their tax return because the proceeds are not subject to federal or state income tax.

So, When Is It Taxable?

Although life insurance proceeds are usually not taxable, there are some exceptions to this rule. Some situations where life insurance may be taxable include:

Interest income

If the beneficiary chooses to receive the death benefit in installments rather than as a lump sum, any interest earned on the installments is taxable as income. While the original amount may be exempt, interest earned is treated separately.

Estate tax

If the insured person’s estate is subject to estate tax, the death benefit may be included in the estate’s value and could be subject to estate tax. This can happen if the policyholder has incidents of ownership in the policy at the time of their death. Incidents of ownership can include the right to change the beneficiary, borrow against the policy or cancel the policy. If the deceased person had any of these rights, the life insurance proceeds may be included in their taxable estate.


If the policy is transferred to another person in exchange for cash or other valuable consideration, some of the benefit may be considered taxable under a rule known as “transfer-for-value.” Once the policy is exchanged for some other item of value, a formula is applied to determine how much of the benefit will be taxed.

Does Policy Type Matter?

While the circumstances under which the benefit is received can determine taxability, the tax treatment does not generally depend on the type of policy. Whether you have a term life, whole life or another type of policy, taxes still do not generally apply. However, it is essential to understand the tax implications of any specific policy features or riders that may affect the tax treatment of the death benefit.

Tax or No Tax, Stay Insured

Even if there are some situations where proceeds may be taxable, the financial security of a life insurance policy will make a big difference to your loved ones — a difference you can quickly see by using our handy life insurance calculator. As always, consult with a tax professional or financial advisor to determine the best financial outcome, but it’s important to always maintain ample coverage that meets your needs.

At Erie Insurance, we’ll make sure you get the coverage your family deserves. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your family find peace of mind.

ERIE life insurance products and services are provided by Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home office Erie, PA), a member of Erie Insurance Group, and are not available in New York.

ERIE® insurance products and services are provided by one or more of the following insurers: Erie Insurance Exchange, Erie Insurance Company, Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Company, Flagship City Insurance Company and Erie Family Life Insurance Company (home offices: Erie, Pennsylvania) or Erie Insurance Company of New York (home office: Rochester, New York).  The companies within the Erie Insurance Group are not licensed to operate in all states. Refer to the company licensure and states of operation information.

The insurance products and rates, if applicable, described in this blog are in effect as of January 2024 and may be changed at any time. 

Insurance products are subject to terms, conditions and exclusions not described in this blog. The policy contains the specific details of the coverages, terms, conditions and exclusions. 

The insurance products and services described in this blog are not offered in all states.  ERIE life insurance and annuity products are not available in New York.  ERIE Medicare supplement products are not available in the District of Columbia or New York.  ERIE long term care products are not available in the District of Columbia and New York. 

Eligibility will be determined at the time of application based upon applicable underwriting guidelines and rules in effect at that time.

Your ERIE agent can offer you practical guidance and answer questions you may have before you buy.

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