Insights + Resources

Life Insurance and Charitable Giving

Mar 29, 2024

Life insurance can be an excellent tool for charitable giving. Not only does life insurance allow you to make a substantial gift to charity at relatively little cost to you, but you may also benefit from tax rules that apply to gifts of life insurance.

Why use life insurance for charitable giving?

Life insurance allows you to make a much larger gift to charity than you might otherwise be able to afford. Although the cost to you (your premiums) is relatively small, the amount the charity will receive (the death benefit) can be quite substantial. As long as you continue to pay the premiums on the life insurance policy, the charity is guaranteed to receive the proceeds of the policy when you die. (Guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.) Since life insurance proceeds paid to a charity are not subject to income and estate taxes, probate costs, and other expenses, the charity can count on receiving 100 percent of your gift.

Giving life insurance to charity also has certain income tax benefits. Depending on how you structure your gift, you may be able to take an income tax deduction equal to your basis in the policy or its fair market value (FMV), and you may be able to deduct the premiums you pay for the policy on your annual income tax return. When an insurance contract is transferred to a charity, the donor’s income tax charitable deduction is based on the lesser of FMV or adjusted cost basis.

What are the disadvantages of using life insurance for charitable giving?

Donating a life insurance policy to charity (or naming the charity as beneficiary on the policy) means that you have less wealth to distribute among your heirs when you die. This may discourage you from making gifts to charity. However, this problem is relatively simple to solve. Buy another life insurance policy that will benefit your heirs instead of a charity.

Ways to give life insurance to charity

The simplest way to use life insurance to give to a charity is to name a charity to receive the benefits of your life insurance policy. You, as owner of the policy, simply designate the charity as beneficiary. Designating the charity as beneficiary may allow you to make a larger gift than you could otherwise afford. If the policy is a form of cash value life insurance, you still have access to the cash value of the policy during your lifetime. However, this type of charitable gift does not provide many of the income tax benefits of charitable giving, because you retain control of the policy during your life. When you die, the proceeds are included in your gross estate, although the full amount of the proceeds payable to the charity can be deducted from your gross estate.

Another alternative is to donate an existing life insurance policy to charity. To do this, you must assign all rights in the policy to the charity. You must also deliver the policy itself to the charity. By doing this, you give up all control of the life insurance policy forever. This strategy provides the full tax advantages of charitable giving because the transfer of ownership is irrevocable. You may be able to take an income tax deduction equal to the lesser of your adjusted cost basis or FMV. The policy is not included in your gross estate when you die, unless you die within three years of the transfer. In this case, your estate would get an offsetting charitable deduction.

A creative way to use life insurance to donate to a charity is simply for the charity to insure you. To use this strategy, you would allow the charity to purchase an insurance policy on your life. You would make annual tax-deductible gifts to the charity in an amount equal to the premium, and the charity would pay the premium to the insurance company.

One final method is to use a life insurance policy in conjunction with a charitable remainder trust. This strategy is relatively complex (it will require an attorney to set up), but it provides greater advantages than other, simpler methods. You set up a charitable remainder trust and transfer ownership of other, income-producing assets to the trust. The income beneficiary of the trust (you or whomever you designate) will get the income from the assets in the trust. At the end of the trust term (which might be a certain number of years or upon the occurrence of a certain event, such as your death), the property in the trust would pass to the charity. You’ll receive a current tax deduction when you establish the trust for the FMV of the gifted assets, reduced according to a formula determined by the IRS. Life insurance can then be purchased (usually inside an irrevocable life insurance trust to keep the proceeds out of your estate) to replace the assets that went to the charity instead of to your heirs.

For more insights and resources, be sure to sign up for our Weekly Market Commentary. Follow our YouTube channel where we regularly post our Epic Market Minute videos. Follow us on LinkedIn, or like us on Facebook. And as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a dedicated service professional at Epic Capital.

More Insights

Apr 17, 2024

Following Iran’s missile and drone strikes on Israel over the weekend and the apparent escalation likely in any Israeli response, stocks fell sharply during Monday’s trading session. We examine the latest developments in the Middle East conflict, how stocks have reacted historically to geopolitical events, and the possible impact on markets moving forward.

Apr 15, 2024

Did you buy U.S. Savings Bonds decades ago? Or did your parents or grandparents purchase them for you? If they’re collecting dust in a drawer, you may want to take a look at them to see if any of your bonds have matured. If your bonds have matured, that means they are no longer earning … Continue reading “How US Savings Bonds Work”

Apr 12, 2024

In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. With inflation, a third straight month of hotter-than-expected consumer inflation data nearly ruled out probabilities for a June rate cut yesterday (now less than a 25% chance, according to fed funds futures). The core Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4% in March, or 3.8% when compared on a … Continue reading “Market Update – Assessing the Prospect for a Pullback”

Apr 10, 2024

You know how important it is to plan for your retirement, but where do you begin? One of your first steps should be to estimate how much income you’ll need to fund your retirement. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because retirement planning is not an exact science. Your specific needs depend on your … Continue reading “Estimating Your Retirement Income Needs”

Apr 8, 2024

Let’s talk seasonality. For those that are unfamiliar, seasonality is the tendency for markets to perform better during some calendar periods and worse during others in a somewhat predictable way. One of the more amazing things about 2023 and part of the first quarter of 2024 is how well U.S. equity markets have been following … Continue reading “Can Pre-Election Market Trends Survive This Attention?”

Insights + Resources >