Will withholding apply to a life insurance payment?

May 3, 2004

From:  Wendie
Date:  Thu, 29 Apr 2004

A deceased employee has a life insurance policy which the insurance company says has to be paid to the deceased employee's 401(k) plan. The insurance company is sending the check to the deceased employee's company and then the company is supposed to write checks to pay to the deceased employee's beneficiaries. Is the company responsible for deducting taxes for the beneficiaries? Why wouldn't the life insurance company pay the beneficiaries directly?

Sincerely,
Wendie

Answer

Date:  Fri, 30 Apr 2004

Hello Wendie,

From what you are describing to me, it appears the life insurance policy was owned by the 401(k) plan, which would explain why the benefits are payable to the plan. (The plan was probably the beneficiary for the life insurance policy.) A payment which is a "non-periodic payment", such as a lump sum payment to a beneficiary other than a surviving spouse, is subject to 10% federal withholding by the plan, but the beneficiary can elect out of withholding for these payments. (Internal Revenue Code § 3405(b).)

A payment to a surviving spouse which qualifies for rollover is subject to mandatory 20% federal withholding by the plan, but the beneficiary can avoid the withholding by electing to have the distribution paid directly to an eligible retirement plan (such as an IRA). (Internal Revenue Code §3405(c).)

Withholding does not apply to any portion of a distribution which the plan believes is not subject to income tax, such as the deferred income of employer securities held by the plan and distributed to the beneficiary. (Internal Revenue Code § 3405(e).) (This exception does not apply to IRAs.)

Good luck!
Mike Gray

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