What Happens to an Annuity When You Die?

Christian Worstell
In this article...
  • Find out what happens to an annuity when you die, including how to choose a beneficiary, how inherited annuities and death benefits are taxed and more.

When planning for retirement, it's important to consider what will happen to an annuity upon the death of its owner.

The annuitant is the individual who holds and receives payments from an annuity agreement. When that individual passes away, their beneficiary will inherit any remaining funds in the account — but how those payouts are handled depends on a few factors like beneficiary designation and type of death benefit offered by the insurer.

What Is an Annuity?

An annuity is a financial product that pays out a regular income stream over a period of time. Annuities are generally employed as a retirement savings option, delivering consistent funds during one's later years.

Annuities are issued by insurance companies and can be purchased either with lump sum payments or through periodic contributions over time.

Annuities come in two main types: fixed and variable.

  • Fixed annuities provide a secure return through investments in bonds, stocks or mutual funds.
  • Variable annuities offer greater potential returns but also involve more risk since they are tied to market performance.

Before buying an annuity, familiarize yourself with the associated fees, taxes, withdrawal requirements and restrictions. This includes understanding the fees involved (such as surrender charges), tax implications (annuity gains may be taxed differently than other investments), minimum withdrawal requirements and any restrictions on how you can use your money (e.g., early withdrawal penalties).

Who Is an Annuitant?

An annuitant is the individual who owns an annuity contract and receives payments from it. The annuitant is the person who has purchased an annuity contract with their own funds, such as through a life insurance company or other financial institution.

It's important to understand what happens to an annuitant's contract when they pass away and how those funds will be dispersed.

What Happens to an Annuities at Death?

When an annuitant passes away, the remaining payments from their annuity will be paid out to the designated beneficiary or beneficiaries according to the terms of the contract. It is essential for annuity holders to devise a strategy that stipulates what will occur after their death and how their possessions shall be divided.

An annuitant can choose one or more beneficiaries when setting up their annuity. The beneficiary could be a spouse, child, grandchild, friend or even charity organization. If multiple people are named as beneficiaries, each person’s share of the payment must also be specified at this time.

Once all necessary paperwork has been completed and submitted to the insurance company managing your annuity, it is important to keep track of any changes made during its lifetime such as changing names on accounts or updating contact information with new addresses and phone numbers. This way if anything does happen before you pass away your family members won't have difficulty accessing funds due them from your estate planning documents.

It is critical for inheritors of annuities to be aware of the taxation effects that may come with obtaining payments after death, either as a lump sum or regular distributions (if applicable). State-specific regulations may exist for bequeathed assets, including inheritance taxes.

In general, most types of income derived from investments – such as dividends collected off stock shares owned or rental property proceeds generated – all count towards taxable income under federal law.

When an annuity is held by the deceased, it will be distributed according to their wishes as stated in a beneficiary designation. Selecting the right beneficiaries for your annuity is essential, so being aware of how this process functions can guarantee that your resources are effectively dispersed upon passing.

How Do You Choose a Beneficiary?

Selecting a recipient for an annuity is a critical choice that should not be taken without due consideration. It's essential to understand the criteria set by the insurance company issuing the annuity before making any decisions. Generally, you can name one or more beneficiaries when you purchase your annuity, and they must meet certain requirements.

Your beneficiary must be a living person. It cannot be a trust, estate, charity or other non-living entity. Moreover, most firms necessitate that all beneficiaries be 18 or more years old and possess legitimate recognition to get payments from the annuity.

When choosing your beneficiary, consider their financial needs as well as any tax implications associated with inheriting an annuity. Consider whether the individual already holds significant assets such as stocks and bonds, since this may result in them incurring higher taxes on inherited funds than someone without these investments.

Once you have chosen your preferred beneficiaries for your annuity policy, make sure that everything is documented correctly with both yourself and/or an attorney present during signing. This will ensure that there can never be any question about where funds should go upon death; especially since some policies allow for multiple individuals to be named at once, which can further complicate matters if details are not properly spelled out ahead of time.

Deciding on a recipient for your annuity is crucial, so it's wise to be cautious when selecting one.

How Are Inherited Annuities Taxed?

Taxation of inherited annuities may vary, contingent on the type and recipient. Non-spouse beneficiaries of an annuity are subject to taxation on the payments they receive.

Inherited annuity earnings must be declared as taxable income in the given year, according to IRS regulations. Taxation of the proceeds from inherited annuities is contingent on various factors, such as if the beneficiary is a direct heir of the original owner, their filing status and any potential deductions or credits.

For those receiving distributions directly from an insurance company after the policyholder's passing – known as "death benefits" – there may be further considerations when calculating taxes based on how far back premiums were paid by the deceased individual.

If payments occurred within a certain time period, a portion of each payment could be classified as "returned premium" and not taxed at all. Any additional amount will still need to adhere to IRS guidelines for reporting taxable income.

Annuity Death Benefit FAQs

Can you pass on an annuity when you die?

An annuity cannot be passed on when you die unless you name a beneficiary to inherit a death benefit.

Upon death, any remaining payments from an annuity will cease. Some types of annuities may not pass on a payout to beneficiaries after the annuitant dies, while some may continue to pay out for a spouse or non-spouse beneficiary.

You decide how your annuity pays out after death when you sign the annuity contract.

What is the 10 year rule for inherited annuity?

The 10-year rule for inherited annuities is a provision that allows the beneficiary of an inherited annuity to spread out the taxable income from it over a period of up to ten years.

Instead of being taxed in one lump sum, the beneficiary may opt to spread out the taxable income from an inherited annuity over a period of up to ten years. It is essential to be aware that this regulation only applies if no withdrawals are taken from the annuity before or after its original owner's passing.

Which type of annuity stops all payments upon the death?

An immediate annuity is a type of annuity that stops all payments upon the death of the policyholder. This type of annuity provides guaranteed income for life, and once the policyholder passes away, no more payments are made to beneficiaries or other parties. Immediate annuities can be an effective way to provide financial security in retirement but should be considered carefully as they do not allow for any liquidity options after purchase.

What is the five-year rule for inherited annuity?

The IRS 5-year rule is applicable to annuities that have been inherited, requiring the beneficiary to remove all assets within a span of time. If the beneficiary does not withdraw all funds within five years, they will be liable to pay income tax on any outstanding balance in the account at a rate dependent upon their own personal tax bracket.

The taxation rate is based on their own individual tax bracket and may differ from what would have been paid by the original owner. Additionally, if withdrawals are made before age 59 1/2, a 10% penalty fee may also apply.


When it comes to annuities, understanding what happens when an annuitant dies is key to ensuring that you make the best decisions for your financial future. By taking the time to plan and investigate what occurs with an annuity upon death, you can be confident that your family will be provided for after your passing.

Learn how annuities work and their implications for your estate when you pass away. Make sure to plan ahead so that you can maximize the benefits of an annuity for yourself and your loved ones.

Christian Worstell
About the Author

Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with HelpAdivsor.com. He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.

Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.

While at HelpAdvisor, Christian has written hundreds of articles that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.

Christian’s passion for his role stems from his desire to make a difference in the senior community. He strongly believes that the more beneficiaries know about their Medicare coverage, the better their overall health and wellness is as a result.

A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can find Christian’s most recent articles in our blog.

If you’re a member of the media looking to connect with Christian, please don’t hesitate to email our public relations team at Mike@MyHelpAdvisor.com.

Read More
Hispanic family at cookout
Learn how qualified and non-qualified annuities are taxed. Explore the exclusion ratio, Form 1099-R ...
Woman helps her mother review documents
Learn how fixed annuities work, including pros like tax-deferred returns with guaranteed rates of ...
Doctor reviews medical charts with her patient while both wear face masks
Aetna and Humana are both major providers of Medicare Advantage insurance plans. Our review outlines ...