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Life insurance (or life assurance, especially in the Commonwealth), is a contract between an insurance policy holder and an insurer or assurer, where the insurer promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money (the benefit) in exchange for a premium, upon the death of an insured person (often the policy holder).

Depending on the contract, other events such as terminal illness or critical illness can also trigger payment. The policy holder typically pays a premium, either regularly or as one lump sum. Other expenses (such as funeral expenses) can also be included in the benefits.

Life policies are legal contracts and the terms of the contract describe the limitations of the insured events. Specific exclusions are often written into the contract to limit the liability of the insurer; common examples are claims relating to suicide, fraud, war, riot, and civil commotion.

Life-based contracts tend to fall into two major categories:

Protection policies – designed to provide a benefit, typically a lump sum payment, in the event of specified event. A common form of a protection policy design is term insurance.
Investment policies – where the main objective is to facilitate the growth of capital by regular or single premiums. Common forms (in the U.S.) are whole life, universal life, and variable life policies.

Qualifying status is determined at the outset of the policy if the contract meets certain criteria. Essentially, long term contracts (10 years plus) tend to be qualifying policies and the proceeds are free from income tax and capital gains tax. Single premium contracts and those running for a short term are subject to income tax depending upon the marginal rate in the year a gain is made. All UK insurers pay a special rate of corporation tax on the profits from their life book; this is deemed as meeting the lower rate (20% in 2005–06) of liability for policyholders.

Therefore, a policyholder who is a higher rate taxpayer (40% in 2005-06), or becomes one through the transaction, must pay tax on the gain at the difference between the higher and the lower rate. This gain is reduced by applying a calculation called top-slicing based on the number of years the policy has been held. Although this is complicated, the taxation of life assurance-based investment contracts may be beneficial compared to alternative equity-based collective investment schemes (unit trusts, investment trusts and OEICs).

One feature which especially favors investment bonds is the ‘5% cumulative allowance’ – the ability to draw 5% of the original investment amount each policy year without being subject to any taxation on the amount withdrawn. If not used in one year, the 5% allowance can roll over into future years, subject to a maximum tax-deferred withdrawal of 100% of the premiums payable. The withdrawal is deemed by the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) to be a payment of capital and therefore, the tax liability is deferred until maturity or surrender of the policy.

This is an especially useful tax planning tool for higher rate taxpayers who expect to become basic rate taxpayers at some predictable point in the future, as at this point the deferred tax liability will not result in tax being due.

The proceeds of a life policy will be included in the estate for death duty (in the UK, inheritance tax) purposes. Policies written in trust may fall outside the estate. Trust law and taxation of trusts can be complicated, so any individual intending to use trusts for tax planning would usually seek professional advice from an Independent Financial Adviser and/or a solicitor.

Corporate-owned life insurance

Critical Illness Insurance
Economic capital
Estate planning
False insurance claims
General insurance
Life expectancy
Pet insurance
Retirement planning
Return of premium life insurance
Segregated funds
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance
Term life insurance
Tontine

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