While corporate pensions are on the decline for many younger workers, many clients nearing retirement still have pensions through their employers. One topic that often comes up with married clients is the question of a survivor option: Should you take a single life option and collect the highest monthly payout, or take a lesser amount and ensure that some percentage would go to your spouse if something were to happen to you?
One solution you might consider is something called pension maximization. The question that we are trying to address then is: Can you buy life insurance to replace the pension for less than the monthly “cost” of taking the survivor option?
We don’t sell insurance, but work with highly qualified professionals that do this full time. We don’t receive any compensation for any insurance our clients buy, but looking at coverage is part of our comprehensive approach to addressing all of our clients’ financial needs.
How does pension maximization work?
Here is a recent example where one client could take a single life pension of $6,041/month or a 100% survivor option for $5,401/month, a “cost” of $640/month ($6,041 – $5,401). When considering the insurance option, we would need to recreate this income stream based on him passing away in year one with the following policies:
- A 10yr term policy for $225,000 ($44/month)
- A 15yr term policy for $125,000 ($32/month)
- A 20yr term policy for $100,000 ($31/month)
- A 25yr term policy for $105,000 ($54/month)
- A 30yr term policy for $110,000 ($103/month)
- A no-lapse guarantee universal life policy for $275,000 ($274/month)
The reason you would layer policies in the above example is because you need less insurance as you get older since the time you need the insurance to last is shorter. When you add up the above policies, you get a monthly expense of $538/month, which is $102/month less than the “cost” of the 100% joint survivor option. After 10yrs, the $44/month policy will drop so you will get a raise of $44/month. By the time the 20yr policy has lapsed, you’d be receiving almost $1,300 more per year than when you started. Also, if the spouse passes away first, then this client could cancel the insurance and keep the premiums or keep some of the insurance to pass on to their heirs.
Who does this work well for?
- People who are in good health and can qualify for lower insurance premiums.
- People who have kids or family they want to leave money to. If both spouses passed way together early on, their heirs would receive no additional money under the pension and survivor options. However, by using the pension maximization strategy above, this couple’s heirs could receive $940,000 income tax free.
- People who are comfortable with a little added complexity. It is much easier to just take the survivor benefit from the company. Dealing with insurance policies and then having to either invest the money or buy immediate annuities (this is what the example above solved for using current annuity rates) with any proceeds takes additional time and effort. The example above had six different policies, but I’ve often seen it work with only three or four.
- People who have some time before a decision needs to be made. The underwriting process can take a few months and you don’t want to make this type of decision before life insurance is fully in place.
I’ve looked into this strategy for many clients, and it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes, the company pension option is the best choice and you don’t have to go through any underwriting like you would in the example above. It is important to work with professionals who have the resources and expertise to help you solve these complex financial issues. Here are Merriman, we work with a number of professionals who are experts in their field to help solve problems like this, and other complex issues, for our clients. Please reach out to your advisor if you would like to discuss this option for yourself.
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As CEO, Jeremy directs Merriman’s overall strategic plan and is focused on ensuring we have the right talent and resources in place to help our clients LIVE FULLY and provide peace of mind throughout their financial lives. In addition, Jeremy is responsible for our inorganic growth effort which seeks to bring together likeminded firms across the western U.S. to better serve our clients.
Jeremy is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a Chartered Financial Analyst®. He is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with a degree in business administration and a minor in economics. He is also a member of the CFA Institute and the CFA Society of Seattle.
Outside the office, Jeremy spends time with his wife and three daughters, enjoying the outdoors, traveling to new places and supporting those causes most important to them. Jeremy is committed to helping his community and has worked with the Seattle Pacific University mentorship program and actively supports a variety of local charities including the Fred Hutch Cancer Center and those focused on helping disadvantaged children.
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