Current Thinking

Why Would I Include Life Insurance In My Qualified Retirement Plan?

There is always the risk of dying prematurely. Life insurance can make a plan self-completing in the event of premature death, ensuring that the retirement benefits participants planned to have for retirement will be there for beneficiaries. There may also be needs for life insurance outside the qualified retirement plan that can be met by buying insurance in the plan at a lower cost. All premiums paid for life insurance in a qualified plan are paid with tax-deductible plan contributions. In defined contribution plans the employer can choose to include insurance in the plan either by requiring coverage to be provided to each plan participant or by offering the insurance and allowing each participant to choose whether they want the insurance. In defined contribution plans premiums are paid out of the dollars contributed. When life insurance is included in defined benefit plans all participants must be provided with the insurance. The addition of life insurance in a defined benefit plan will increase the plan contribution by an actuarially determined amount. This is good news for some employers who are seeking the maximum possible deductible plan contribution.


Whenever life insurance is included in a qualified retirement plan, the insured is receiving an immediate benefit in the form of the life insurance protection. The value of this benefit is reported and added to the insured’s taxable income each year. The amount reported is not the actual premium but is an “economic benefit” cost for the pure death benefit coverage. Pure death benefit coverage is the difference between the death benefit provided by the life insurance policy and the cash value of the policy. The “economic benefit” reported is determined using IRS Table 2001 (IRS Notice 2001-10) or, if the insurance company that issued the policy meets requirements defined by the IRS, the company may use their own term insurance rates. The insurance company will provide this information to the company sponsoring the plan each year.


Insurance must be incidental to any qualified retirement plan. Insurance is incidental if these rules are followed.

Defined Contribution Pension Plans

Of plan contributions, these amounts may be used to pay premiums:

  • Up to 25% of aggregate contributions for Universal Life insurance
  • Less than 50% (49.99%) of aggregate contributions for Whole Life insurance

Profit Sharing Plans have more generous rules that also apply. Profit Sharing plans can use 100% of these amounts to pay premiums.

  • Funds including earnings accumulated in the account for over 2 years
  • A participant’s entire account after 5 years of plan participation
  • Funds rolled over from an IRA

Defined Benefit Pension Plans

The amount of insurance must meet one of these two limits:

  • The death benefit equals no more than 100 times the projected monthly pension amount. Example: If participant will receive a $1,000 monthly benefit the maximum face amount of life insurance can be $100,000


  • Rev. Ruling 74-307 Percentage Test (Percentage of Theoretical Uninsured Cost)
    • Up to 66.6% of Theoretical Uninsured Cost may be used for Whole Life insurance premium
    • Up to 33.3% of Theoretical Uninsured Cost may be used for Universal Life premium


At retirement the life insurance policy must be removed from the qualified retirement plan. This can be accomplished in three ways:

  • Surrender the Contract
    • Death benefit is eliminated, cash value remains in the plan and can be rolled to an IRA or taken as cash
  • Distribution of the Contract
    • Death benefit and cash value are preserved
    • Tax is paid on the Fair Market Value minus the reportable economic benefit
  • Purchase
    • Participant pays the Fair Market Value of the policy to the Plan in cash and the policy ownership is changed to the participant
    • Death benefit and cash value remain, no taxation
  • Exchange – offered by some insurance companies
    • Policy may be surrendered in the plan leaving the cash value in the plan to be rolled to an IRA or distributed as cash
    • A new contract is issued on the insured outside the plan


If an insured participant dies while they are in the plan their beneficiary will receive the benefit they have accrued in the plan plus the life insurance death benefit. With no life insurance the beneficiary would receive only the benefit accrued in the plan at the time of death. When life insurance is included, the pure death benefits provided by the life insurance will be paid income tax free. The cash value of the policy and any accrued benefit paid will be subject to income tax. The “economic benefit” costs paid over the life of the policy may be claimed as cost basis against the taxable cash value of the policy.


A 412(e)(3) plan is a defined benefit plan defined under Section 412(e)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The plan may be funded only with guaranteed level premium annuity contracts and level premium whole life insurance. Individual contracts are issued on each plan participant and minimum guarantees are provided in the contracts eliminating market risk. Because funding of the benefits is based on the guarantees in the contracts, fully insured 412(e)(3) plans frequently generate the largest deductible plan contributions. 412(e)(3) Plans were formerly known as 412(i) plans. Originally established under section 412(i) of the Internal Revenue code they were moved to Code Section 412(e)(3) by the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

About the Author

Mary Read

Mary Read CPC, QPA has more than 30 years of experience supporting financial advisors and designing and establishing qualified plans for closely held businesses.  Read is  a frequent speaker and contributor to financial industry publications, teaches  pension classes for financial professionals of major financial institutions,  and has been a featured speaker at national meetings for the Society of Financial Service Professionals, the Association for Advanced Underwriting (AALU), LIMRA, Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) and the Form 400.   She is the National Director of Qualified Plan Marketing for Pentegra.


No comments.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *