Home » What Happens to an Annuity When You Die?  Annuity Inheritance Explained

What Happens to an Annuity When You Die?  Annuity Inheritance Explained

annuity after death

Inheriting an annuity can be a complex process, but understanding what happens to an annuity when you die is crucial for beneficiaries. When someone passes away, their annuity can be inherited by their beneficiaries, providing them with the opportunity to continue benefiting from the accumulated funds. However, there are specific rules and considerations that come into play when inheriting an annuity.

Beneficiaries must familiarize themselves with these rules to make informed decisions regarding the inherited annuity. This includes understanding factors such as tax implications, payout options, and potential penalties for early withdrawals. By gaining proper knowledge about inheriting an annuity, beneficiaries can maximize its benefits and ensure they make choices that align with their financial goals.

We will explore the key considerations for beneficiaries and provide examples to illustrate how these concepts apply in real-life scenarios.

Table of Content

What Happens to the Money in an Annuity After Death?

Inheriting an annuity can raise questions about what happens to the money when the original annuity owner passes away. Let’s delve into the details of what occurs to the funds in an annuity after death and explore the available options for beneficiaries.

The money in an annuity typically passes directly to the designated beneficiary.

When you have an annuity and pass away, the funds within that annuity generally do not go through probate. Instead, they are designed to pass directly to your chosen beneficiary. This means that your beneficiary will receive the proceeds from your annuity without having to wait for a lengthy legal process.

The beneficiary has options for receiving the funds from the inherited annuity.

Once a beneficiary inherits an annuity, they have several choices regarding how they wish to receive the money. These options may include:

  1. Lump Sum Payment: The beneficiary can choose to receive a one-time lump sum payment of the total amount in the inherited annuity. This option provides immediate access to all funds but may have tax implications that should be considered.
  2. Periodic Payments: The beneficiary can opt for periodic payments over a specified period, such as monthly or annually. This allows for steady income over time and may help with budgeting and financial planning.
  3. Lifetime Income: In some cases, beneficiaries may have the option of converting their inherited annuity into a lifetime income stream. This ensures regular payment for as long as they live, providing financial security throughout their lifetime.
  4. Stretch Option: Some beneficiaries may choose to “stretch” their inherited annuity by taking only required minimum distributions (RMDs) based on their life expectancy. By doing so, they can potentially extend tax-deferred growth while still receiving income from the annuity.

The tax implications of inheriting an annuity should be considered.

Inheriting an annuity can have tax implications, and it’s essential to understand how these may affect the beneficiary. Here are a few key points to consider:

  • Income Tax: If the annuity was funded with pre-tax dollars (such as a traditional IRA), any distributions received by the beneficiary will generally be subject to income tax.
  • Inherited IRAs: Inherited annuities that are held within an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) have specific rules and regulations regarding required minimum distributions (RMDs) and taxation. It is crucial for beneficiaries to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to navigate these complexities.
  • Step-Up in Basis: In some cases, beneficiaries may receive a step-up in basis when inheriting an annuity, which means their cost basis for tax purposes is adjusted to the current market value at the time of inheritance. This can potentially reduce capital gains taxes if they choose to sell the annuity.
  • Estate Taxes: Depending on the size of the estate, inherited annuities may be subject to estate taxes. However, it’s worth noting that estate tax laws can vary, so consulting with an estate planning attorney is advisable.

Some types of annuities may have restrictions on payout options after death.

It’s important to note that certain types of annuities may come with specific restrictions on payout options after death. For example:

  • Immediate Annuities: Immediate annuities typically provide a fixed income stream for a set period or for life. However, if you pass away shortly after purchasing an immediate annuity, there may not be any remaining funds available for your beneficiaries.
  • Fixed-Term Annuities: Fixed-term annuities guarantee payments over a specified period. If you were receiving payments from a fixed-term annuity and pass away before the term ends, your beneficiaries might receive any remaining payments until the term concludes.
  • Joint and Survivor Annuities: Joint and survivor annuities are designed to continue providing income to a surviving spouse or partner after the original annuity owner’s death. The specific terms and conditions of these annuities may vary, so reviewing the contract is crucial.

It is important to review the terms and conditions of the specific annuity contract.

It is essential to carefully review the terms and conditions outlined in the specific annuity contract. Each annuity can have its own unique provisions regarding beneficiaries, payout options, taxes, fees, and other important details. Understanding these specifics will help ensure that beneficiaries make informed decisions about how they wish to receive their inherited funds.

Exploring Annuity Ownership and Payout Options

Annuities are financial products designed to provide a steady stream of income during retirement or for a specified period. They offer different ownership and payout options, allowing individuals to tailor their annuity to meet their specific needs and goals.

Types of Annuities and Their Features

There are various types of annuities available in the market, each with its own set of features. Let’s take a closer look at three common types:

  1. Fixed Annuities: These annuities guarantee a fixed interest rate for a specified period. They provide stability and predictability as the income remains constant throughout the payout phase.
  2. Variable Annuities: With variable annuities, the annuity owner has more control over investment decisions. The performance of the underlying investments determines the income received during retirement.
  3. Indexed Annuities: Indexed annuities combine elements of both fixed and variable annuities. The return on these annuities is tied to an index, such as the S&P 500, offering potential growth while still providing some level of protection against market downturns.

Each type of annuity comes with its own set of benefits and considerations, so it’s essential to consult with a financial planner or advisor to determine which option aligns best with your financial goals.

Choosing Between Immediate or Deferred Payouts

When setting up an annuity, individuals have the choice between immediate or deferred payouts. Here’s what you need to know about each option:

  1. Immediate Payouts: As the name suggests, immediate payouts begin shortly after purchasing an annuity. This can be an attractive option for those who need income right away upon retirement or within a short timeframe.
  2. Deferred Payouts: Deferred payouts allow individuals to delay receiving income from their annuity until a later date, typically during retirement years. This allows for potential growth of the annuity value over time, resulting in a potentially higher income stream during retirement.

The decision between immediate or deferred payouts depends on individual circumstances and financial goals. Some individuals may prefer immediate income to cover living expenses, while others may opt for deferred payouts to maximize their annuity’s growth potential.

Understanding Annuity Ownership Rights

Annuity ownership rights play a crucial role in determining what happens to an annuity when the owner passes away. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Transfer of Ownership: Annuity owners have the option to transfer ownership rights during their lifetime. This can be done by assigning a new owner or changing the beneficiary designation. By doing so, the annuity will pass directly to the new owner or beneficiary upon the original owner’s death.
  2. Passing through Probate: If no transfer of ownership has occurred, the annuity becomes part of the deceased owner’s estate and goes through probate. During this process, the court will distribute assets according to the terms outlined in the owner’s will or state laws if there is no will.
  3. Beneficiary Designation: Designating beneficiaries is an important step in ensuring a smooth transition of assets after death. By naming specific individuals as beneficiaries, annuity owners can ensure that their loved ones receive the benefits without going through probate.
  4. Tax Considerations: It’s essential to understand any tax implications associated with passing on an annuity after death. Depending on factors such as ownership structure and timing, beneficiaries may be subject to income taxes or inheritance taxes on their inherited annuities.

To navigate these complexities effectively, it is advisable to consult with legal and financial professionals who can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation.

Inherited Annuities: Reporting Income and Payouts

When you inherit an annuity, it’s important to understand the tax implications and reporting requirements associated with the income and payouts. Here are some key points to consider:

Beneficiaries must report any taxable income received from inherited annuities.

As a beneficiary of an inherited annuity, you may receive regular annuity payments or choose to take a lump sum payout. These payments are considered taxable income and must be reported on your annual tax return. It’s essential to keep track of the amount received as it will impact your overall tax liability.

Taxation on inherited annuities depends on factors such as type, timing, and distribution method chosen by beneficiaries.

The taxation of inherited annuities is influenced by several factors. The type of annuity, whether it’s a qualified or non-qualified account, can affect how distributions are taxed. The timing of when you receive the payouts and the distribution method you choose can also impact the taxation.

For example, if you opt for a lump-sum payout, the entire amount may be subject to taxation in that specific year. On the other hand, if you decide to receive lifetime income payments from an inherited annuity, each payment will be treated as ordinary income for tax purposes.

Consultation with a tax professional is recommended when dealing with taxation issues related to inherited annuities.

Given the complexities surrounding taxation on inherited annuities, seeking guidance from a qualified tax professional is highly advisable. They can help navigate through the intricacies of reporting requirements and ensure compliance with applicable tax laws.

A tax professional can assist in determining your tax liability based on your specific situation. They can also provide valuable advice on strategies to minimize taxes while maximizing your inheritance.

It’s crucial not to underestimate the importance of consulting with experts who specialize in estate planning and taxation. Their expertise can save you from potential pitfalls and ensure you make informed decisions regarding your inherited annuity.

Joint Life Cover and Survivor Payouts Explained

Surviving Spouse Benefits

When you have an annuity and you pass away, what happens to it? Well, if you have a joint life annuity with a survivor benefit, your surviving spouse will continue to receive payments after your death. This is one of the advantages of having a joint annuity.

Understanding Joint Annuities

A joint life annuity is a type of annuity that provides income for two people instead of just one. It is typically used by married couples who want to ensure that both spouses receive income throughout their lifetimes. With this type of annuity, the payments continue even after one spouse passes away.

How Survivor Payouts Work

When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse will continue to receive regular payments from the annuity. The amount of the payment may be adjusted based on the terms of the contract and the age of the surviving spouse. In some cases, the payments may remain unchanged, while in others they may be reduced.

Advantages of Joint Annuities

There are several advantages to choosing a joint life annuity with survivor benefits:

  1. Continued Income: With a joint annuity, you can ensure that your surviving spouse will continue to receive income even after your death.
  2. Financial Security: By providing ongoing payments to your surviving spouse, you can help maintain their financial security and well-being.
  3. Peace of Mind: Knowing that your loved one will be taken care of financially can provide peace of mind for both you and your spouse.

Considerations When Choosing a Joint Annuity

While there are many benefits to choosing a joint life annuity with survivor benefits, there are also some important considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Reduced Payments: In some cases, choosing a joint annuity may result in lower monthly payments compared to an individual annuity. This is because the insurance company takes into account the longer duration of payments that may be required.
  2. Age Difference: If there is a significant age difference between you and your spouse, it’s important to consider how this may impact the payout amount. The younger spouse typically receives smaller payments since they are expected to live longer.
  3. Insurance Company Policies: Different insurance companies may have different policies. It’s important to carefully review the terms and conditions before making a decision.

Exploring Other Options

If you’re not sure if a joint life annuity with survivor benefits is right for you, there are other options to consider:

  1. Lump Sum Payment: Instead of receiving regular payments, you can choose to receive a lump sum payment from the annuity after your spouse’s death.
  2. Life Only Annuity: With a life-only annuity, the payments cease upon your death. While this option doesn’t provide for a surviving spouse, it may result in higher monthly payments during your lifetime.

Remember, it’s essential to carefully evaluate your financial situation and consult with an experienced financial advisor before making any decisions regarding your annuity.

Types of Annuity Beneficiaries and Death Benefits

When you have an annuity, it’s important to consider what happens to it when you pass away. This section will explore the different types of annuity beneficiaries and the death benefits they may receive.

Annuity Beneficiaries

An annuity beneficiary is the person or entity designated to receive the death benefit upon the annuitant’s passing. The beneficiary can be anyone you choose, such as a spouse, child, sibling, or even a charity organization. It’s crucial to review and update your beneficiary designation regularly to ensure it aligns with your wishes.

Death Benefits

The death benefit refers to the amount paid out to the annuity beneficiary upon the annuitant’s death. The specific amount depends on various factors, including the type of annuity and any optional riders or features chosen. Let’s discuss some common types of death benefits:

  1. Lump Sum Payment: With this option, the beneficiary receives a one-time payment equal to the remaining value of the annuity contract at the time of death.
  2. Installment Payments: Instead of receiving a lump sum, beneficiaries can opt for regular installment payments over a specified period or their lifetime. This provides a steady income stream for beneficiaries.
  3. Life Income Option: Some annuities offer a life income option where beneficiaries receive guaranteed payments for their lifetime, regardless of how long they live.
  4. Joint and Survivor Option: In certain cases, if there are two individuals named as joint owners on an annuity contract (e.g., spouses), the surviving owner continues receiving payments after one passes away.
  5. Return of Premium: This death benefit ensures that if an individual dies before receiving total payouts equaling their initial investment in premiums paid into an annuity contract, their beneficiaries will receive either the remaining balance or return of premium.
  6. Enhanced Death Benefit Rider: This optional rider, available for an additional cost, can provide a higher death benefit to beneficiaries. It often guarantees that the beneficiary will receive at least the total premiums paid into the annuity contract.

Choosing the Right Beneficiary and Death Benefit

Selecting the right annuity beneficiary and death benefit option is a crucial decision. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Financial Needs: Think about your beneficiary’s financial situation and their needs after your passing. Do they require a lump sum payment or regular income?
  2. Tax Implications: Consider how different death benefit options may impact taxes for both you and your beneficiary.
  3. Estate Planning: Consult with an estate planning attorney to ensure that designating beneficiaries aligns with your overall estate plan.
  4. Age and Health of Beneficiaries: The age and health of your beneficiaries may influence which death benefit option is most suitable.
  5. Annuity Type: Different types of annuities offer varying death benefit options, so it’s essential to understand what each type offers before making a decision.

Remember, it’s always wise to consult with a financial advisor or insurance professional who can guide you through the process of selecting beneficiaries and determining the most appropriate death benefit options based on your specific circumstances.

Understanding Period Certain Payout Options and Annuities

In the previous section, we discussed the different types of annuity beneficiaries and death benefits. Now, let’s delve into another important aspect of annuities: the payout phase and what happens to an annuity when you pass away.

Payout Phase: Transitioning from Accumulation to Distribution

Once you reach retirement age or decide to start receiving income from your annuity, you enter what is known as the “payout phase.” During this phase, you begin receiving regular payments from your annuity contract. These payments can be structured in various ways, depending on the type of annuity you have and the options chosen.

Period Certain Payout Options

One common payout option is called a “period certain” payout. With this option, you choose a specific period during which you will receive payments from your annuity contract. If you pass away before the end of that period, your designated beneficiary will continue to receive the remaining payments until the end of the specified term.

Here are some key points to understand about period certain payout options:

  1. Length of Period: When selecting a period certain option, it’s essential to consider how long you want the payments to last. Common choices include 5 years, 10 years, or even up to 30 years.
  2. Guaranteed Payments: With a period certain payout option, both you and your beneficiary are guaranteed to receive payments for at least the duration of the specified period.
  3. Impact on Payment Amount: The length of the selected period will affect the amount of each payment received. A shorter period may result in higher payment amounts but for a shorter duration.
  4. Flexibility: Some annuities allow for adjustments within a chosen period certain option. For example, if you initially select a 10-year term but later decide to change it to 15 years, you may have the flexibility to make that adjustment.

Factors to Consider

When deciding whether a period certain payout option is suitable for your needs, it’s important to take several factors into consideration:

  1. Financial Goals: Consider your financial goals and how long you anticipate needing income from your annuity. If you have specific expenses or obligations that will last for a set period, such as paying off a mortgage or funding education costs, a period certain option might align well with those goals.
  2. Lifestyle and Health: Your lifestyle and health can also play a role in determining the appropriate length of the period certain option. If you have dependents who rely on the annuity payments, ensuring they are financially supported for an extended period may be a priority.
  3. Estate Planning: Period certain payout options can also be beneficial for estate planning purposes. By selecting a longer duration, you can provide ongoing financial support to beneficiaries even after your passing.

Pros and Cons of Period Certain Payout Options

Like any financial decision, there are pros and cons to consider when choosing a period certain payout option:


  • Provides guaranteed income for both you and your beneficiary during the specified term.
  • Allows for customization based on individual needs and financial goals.
  • Can offer peace of mind knowing that payments will continue regardless of life expectancy.


  • If you pass away before the end of the chosen term, there may be remaining payments that go unused.
  • The length of the chosen term limits flexibility in accessing funds outside of the annuity contract.
  • Depending on market conditions, inflation may impact the real value of future payments.

Fate of Annuities Upon Death

We discussed the fate of the money in an annuity after death, delved into different ownership and payout options, examined inherited annuities and reporting income and payouts, explained joint life cover and survivor payouts, explored types of annuity beneficiaries and death benefits, and understood period certain payout options. By now, you should have a comprehensive understanding of how annuities work in relation to death.

If you are considering purchasing an annuity or already own one, it is crucial to understand the implications for your loved ones upon your passing. By knowing how annuities are handled after death, you can make informed decisions that align with your financial goals and provide security for your beneficiaries. Remember to consult with a financial advisor for personalized advice tailored to your specific situation.


Can I name multiple beneficiaries for my annuity?

Yes, most annuities allow you to name multiple beneficiaries. This can be useful if you want to distribute the proceeds among several individuals or organizations according to specific percentages or amounts.

What happens if I don’t designate a beneficiary?

If you do not designate a beneficiary for your annuity or if all designated beneficiaries pass away before you do, the proceeds will typically go through probate and become part of your estate. It is advisable to keep your beneficiary designations up-to-date to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled.

Are there any tax implications when receiving an inherited annuity?

Yes, there may be tax implications when receiving an inherited annuity. The taxation depends on factors such as whether the original owner had begun taking withdrawals from the annuity before their passing and whether it is a qualified or non-qualified annuity. Consult with a tax professional for guidance on how inherited annuities may impact your taxes.

Can I change the payout options of an inherited annuity?

In most cases, you cannot change the payout options of an inherited annuity. However, it is essential to review the specific terms and conditions of the annuity contract as some may allow for certain changes or modifications.

Is it possible to sell an inherited annuity?

Yes, it is possible to sell an inherited annuity through a process known as a structured settlement factoring transaction. However, selling an inherited annuity should be carefully considered, as it may have financial and tax implications. It is recommended to seek professional advice before making any decisions regarding selling an inherited annuity.

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