When you insure yourself under a life insurance policy, you will name a beneficiary who will receive the policy’s payout in the event of your death. This settlement is called a death benefit, and it can ease your survivors’ financial burdens in numerous practical ways.
You might decide that leaving life insurance to family beneficiaries is the best way to enable them to settle your estate. However, a death benefit is different from other types of inheritance. Here’s what you should consider when you are choosing the death benefit for your life insurance policy.
How Do Death Benefits Work?
You buy life insurance while you are still alive, but it is only designed to pay out in the event of your death. You can choose the sum of the death benefit included within the plan, and you can also choose for how long you want the policy to cover you. Some plans only cover you for a certain term of years (term life insurance) and others last for the rest of your life (permanent life insurance).
At the time of choosing the plan, you will also name the beneficiary to who you want to receive the policy funds. You cannot be both the insured and the beneficiary on the policy since you must die for the policy to pay out benefits. Should you die while the policy is in place, your beneficiary will receive the death benefit. Some life insurance plans allow you to name primary and contingent beneficiaries, and you can also instruct that each beneficiary receive a certain percentage of the death benefit. One positive aspect of life insurance death benefits is that they are not considered part of your estate. As a result, they will not go through the probate process. Therefore, your beneficiaries won’t automatically be obligated to repay creditors or others using this money.
Still, if you want to put stipulations on how the death benefit money is to be used, then you have the option of placing the money into a trust. The trust will be the technical beneficiary on the policy, and you can set rules within the trust on how the named trustee is to distribute the money within.
You should let your beneficiaries know that you are naming them on your life insurance policy. That way, they will know that, upon your death, they need to notify the life insurer and start the claims process. At that time, they should receive the money within a few weeks. However, they will have to provide proof of your death, and the insurer might take longer to pay out benefits (or even deny a claim) if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding your passing.
If you are unsure your loved one will know what to do with your life insurance death benefit, you can let your will or attorney provide instruction to your beneficiary after your death. Additionally, your life insurance agent can help your loved one through this process.