You may think that life insurance is tax-free. Unfortunately, the “no tax on life insurance” idea is only partly true: Life insurance is income tax-free. In other words, recipients of a decedent’s life insurance policy do not have to pay income tax on that sum.
However, if it’s large enough, the decedent’s estate — including any life insurance proceeds — could be subject to federal and/or state estate taxes. As an example, let’s say you have a $1 million life insurance policy. The IRS deems that policy an asset, just as if you had an investment portfolio worth $1 million. And upon your death, the IRS sees it as a million-dollar asset you just transferred to your beneficiaries, and taxes it accordingly. That estate tax is usually due upon death, and it can be substantial.