Understanding the Life Insurance Payout Process

Life Insurance Payout Process DefinitionLife Insurance Payout Process Definition

Key Takeaways

  • There are two main types of life insurance - term and whole life. Term life expires after a set period while whole life is permanent as long as premiums are paid.
  • Only the designated beneficiaries named in the policy are entitled to receive the payout upon the policyholder's death.
  • Life insurance payouts are typically made in a lump sum or installments. Beneficiaries can choose which option works best for them.
  • To file a claim, beneficiaries need to obtain death certificates and complete the required forms from the insurance company.
  • There's usually no deadline to file a claim so beneficiaries can take the necessary time to grieve before notifying the insurer.

Life insurance is a critical part of a holistic financial plan. It helps provide additional financial protection for your loved ones after you're gone.

However, signing up for a policy and paying your premiums are only parts of the equation. It's also important to educate your loved ones about the steps they'll need to take to file a life insurance claim and receive a life insurance payout.

It may be a difficult topic to discuss. Still, it's best that your beneficiaries have all the necessary information and are prepared for the process. Here's some of what you should know.

Types of Life Insurance

The payout your loved ones receive will depend on the type of life insurance policy you have. There are two main types of life insurance coverage:

  • Term life insurance. Term life insurance coverage expires after a set term. Insurers typically offer term policies in five-year increments, sometimes ranging all the way up to a 40-year policy. You can maintain this coverage as long as you pay your monthly or annual premium. However, after the end of the term, you'll no longer have coverage and your beneficiaries won't receive any life insurance payout upon your death.
  • Whole life insurance. Whole life insurance is permanent life insurance. Your coverage never expires as long as you continue to pay your premiums. One of the distinguishing features of whole life insurance is that it includes a cash value component where part of your premiums have the potential to grow over time. With whole life insurance, you can withdraw the policy's cash value or take out a loan against the policy, although doing so would reduce the death benefit.

Term and whole life policies typically offer different payouts depending on what's outlined in your policy. It's crucial to read the fine print before you purchase coverage to understand the death benefit your loved ones could receive and what the claims process will entail.

Some of the Ins & Outs of Life Insurance Payouts

Whether you have term or whole life insurance, your policy will detail what death benefit, or life insurance payout, your loved ones will receive upon your death.

Only the beneficiaries you specifically designate in your policy are entitled to receive a payout. Many people designate their spouse and children as beneficiaries, but it's entirely your choice. You could even name a family trust, business or charity as your beneficiary. Be aware, the rules around those are more complex. It's best to contact an estate planning attorney in such instances.

It's also important to know that life insurance payouts generally aren't subject to income taxes. Your loved ones likely will receive the full death benefit listed in your policy.

How Your Life Insurance Payout Is Determined

When you apply for life insurance coverage, you can ask for a specific policy amount. People generally determine their coverage needs based on their current age, the amount of income their loved ones will need to replace and the number of years their family would need this income. For example, if you make $100,000 a year and estimate your family will need to replace your income for 25 years, you may want to apply for a $2.5 million life insurance policy. Ultimately, an insurer will decide whether to approve you for this amount, based on factors including your age, gender, health, medical history and more. The company also will set your premiums.

When you sign up for a policy, you'll name your beneficiaries and choose how to allocate your life insurance proceeds. Your policy's payout can be divided evenly among all your named beneficiaries, or you may choose to leave more to one person than another, such as leaving more to your spouse than for your minor children. It's important to be very clear about this at the outset, so your loved ones aren't surprised when they file a claim after your death.

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Life Insurance Payout Options

Insurers typically pay out life insurance proceeds in two ways — via a lump sum or in installments.

Lump Sum Payment

With the lump sum option, your beneficiaries receive the entire death benefit at one time. This may be best if your beneficiaries have expenses they need to cover immediately, such as funeral costs or mortgage payments. But disbursing life insurance proceeds all at once can be risky if it's a large amount of money and your beneficiaries may not be in a position to manage it properly.

Installment Payments

Your beneficiaries also have the option to receive an insurance payout in installments. With this option, an insurer will disburse a portion of the life insurance payout regularly, such as monthly or annually. Your beneficiaries can choose the installment term based on their financial needs. The installment option can help to make sure that the money doesn't run out prematurely and that it's used as you intended, such as to pay for everyday long-term expenses, like housing, food and ongoing education costs.

Beneficiaries also can receive a payout with a life income or interest income option.1 With life income, a beneficiary can convert the payout into an annuity and receive guaranteed ongoing income based on the death benefit amount outlined in your policy and the beneficiary's life expectancy at the time they choose this option. With the interest income option, the beneficiary receives only the interest that accumulates on the policy's death benefit while the insurer holds on to the actual proceeds, which it will then distribute to a secondary beneficiary after the original beneficiary's death. This helps a beneficiary carry forward the original policyholder's financial legacy to future generations. It can be especially effective if the beneficiary is already financially secure and doesn't immediately need the life insurance proceeds.

Your loved ones will have several options for how they can receive an insurance payout. It's ultimately their decision based on what they believe works best for them. Regardless of the manner of payout, though, they will first have to file a claim.

How to File a Life Insurance Claim

Claims processes vary by insurer. Here are common steps to file a life insurance claim:

  1. Obtain Death Certificate Copies: The first step in the life insurance claims process usually involves obtaining the insured person's death certificate.
  2. Contact the Insurance Company:
    • The beneficiary needs to contact the insurance company to find out what forms are required.
    • An agent will explain the claims process and provide the necessary forms.
  3. Complete and Submit Forms:
    • The beneficiary completes the required forms.
    • Submit these forms along with a certified copy of the death certificate to the insurance company.
  4. Additional Information: If the insurer needs any additional information, they will contact the beneficiary directly.
  5. Review of the Claim:
    • The insurance company reviews the claim, considering the policy's specific provisions and any applicable laws.
    • Note: Certain policy provisions may prevent a payout depending on the cause of death or missed premium payments.
  6. Decision and Payout:
    • The claims process can take several weeks.
    • If the insurer approves the claim, the beneficiary can choose the best payout option for their needs.
    • Insurers typically disburse payments within 30 to 60 days after claim approval.

Help Provide Your Family Needed Financial Protection

It's not easy to talk about life insurance and how beneficiaries can collect the proceeds. But it's an important conversation to have.

Make sure your beneficiaries have a copy of your policy. This can spare your family the time and stress of searching for documents or contacting your employer or your state's department of insurance to find out if you had coverage and what company to contact for more information.

It's important to note that beneficiaries don't have to rush to file a claim. Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person will ever experience. Given that, they should take the necessary time to grieve. Beneficiaries may also have to handle other affairs first, such as selling their loved one's home or stepping in to manage their business succession plan. Generally, there isn't a deadline to file a life insurance claim, so beneficiaries needn't worry about potentially losing access to the payout.

Providing for the Future

As it's often said, life insurance is for the living. From this perspective, an insurance payout isn't just about money. It's the ultimate gift — and an example of the long-lasting financial legacy — a loved one can leave behind for future generations.

If you are interested in purchasing a life insurance policy or wish to learn more about the payout process, contact a financial professional for assistance. They can provide a personalized look at your individual situation and offer insightful guidance.

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  1. How do I file a life insurance claim? https://www.iii.org/article/how-do-i-file-life-insurance-claim.

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