Once set up, an annuity is designed to pay someone money, often in monthly payments, for the rest of their life. Insurance companies typically offer annuity products, and investors can purchase a rider for the annuity plan to add a death benefit. This ensures that, if the annuitant, or person receiving the annuity payments, dies before the annuity term ends, his remaining payments can go to a beneficiary of his choosing. Like some other investment vehicles used to fund retirement, annuities come in two varieties, qualified and non-qualified.
If you inherit a non-qualified annuity, the method by which you choose to withdraw the funds will determine how you are taxed. If you opt to receive a lump-sum payment of all funds within the annuity, you will be taxed for the full amount at one time in keeping with standard income tax regulations. If you choose to disperse the payments over an extended period, your tax bill will be spaced out among these distributions.
Is There a Tax Write Off for an Annuity?
A non-qualified annuity means that you'll receive no tax deduction up front for your contributions to the annuity, but you also won't pay taxes when withdrawing your original funds. These plans are typically funded with after-tax dollars, so you don't need to pay the tax man twice. You will, however, need to pay tax on any interest earned on the original funds invested in the annuity. Non-qualified annuities also don't have any required minimum distribution.
Understanding Annuity Taxation
Non-qualified annuities have a similar tax treatment to some other types of retirement-focused investments. The money paid into this type of annuity grows on a tax-deferred basis, and once the annuity owner starts receiving payments, she'll pay her ordinary income tax rate on the money. When someone inherits the annuity from the original owner, a few different tax implications arise. If the surviving spouse is the beneficiary, the contract simply transfers as if the spouse were the original owner, with the same tax treatment as the owner would have had.
Annuity Taxation at Death for a Non-Spouse Beneficiary
For a non-spouse beneficiary, a few different inherited non-qualified annuity options exist for payout, which will determine how the money gets taxed. If the beneficiary decides to take all of the annuity money in a lump sum payment, she'll need to pay taxes on the interest portion of the funds. The original contributions, i.e., the principle, won't be subject to any taxes. If the heir decides instead to continue getting the periodic annuity payments, she'll pay tax on each payment as it's distributed, spreading out the tax liability potentially over years.
Selling off the Inherited Investment
Sometimes the person inheriting an annuity chooses to sell it and use the proceeds to take care of existing debt, college tuition for the kids or other expenses. A sale can happen in a few different ways. The beneficiary can sell the entire contract and take a lump-sum payment one time, or he can choose to sell his payments for a portion of the annuity's payment schedule.
For example, if a person had 15 years of annuity payments remaining, he could sell seven of those years' payments and receive a lump sum. In the eighth year, he'll start to receive the annuity payments again, through the end of the contract. He could also sell a part of each payment, receiving a one-time lump sum, and smaller payments through the end of the contract. In either scenario, he would pay his regular tax rate on the interest portion of the cash received, but not the principle portion.
Important Things To Consider
Unlike some other investments, such as real estate or stocks, annuities have no step-up in their basis, or original cost, at the owner's date of death. Many times, assets are worth more at the owner's death than when first acquired, but annuities have no change in value one transferred to the beneficiary. Annuities are included in the deceased person's estate, making them subject to estate tax. In this situation, the person inheriting the annuity must pay the estate tax on the annuity.
Cynthia Gaffney has spent over 20 years in finance with experience in valuation, corporate financial planning, mergers & acquisitions consulting and small business ownership. She has worked as a financial writer for online finance publications since 2011, including eHow Money, The Motley Fool, and Sapling.com. She has also edited for several online finance publications, including The Balance, Opposing Views:Money, Synonym:Money, and Zacks.com. A Southern California native, Cynthia received her Bachelor of Science degree in finance and business economics from USC.