Tips From Donna (March 2017 Wesban Monthly)
by Donna Gordon on March 2nd, 2017


Life insurance can be an important financial tool for you and your family. For example, life insurance can help replace earnings that would cease upon your death. It can provide a legacy for your children or grandchildren, and can even be used to make a charitable gift after your death.
However, the fact that you've purchased life insurance doesn't guarantee that the death benefit will be paid when it's needed most — after you've died. There are several reasons insurance companies may attempt to deny, or at least delay, paying a claim for the death benefit. Here are some possible circumstances when a death-benefit claim may be contested by the insurer

Misstatements on the application
A clause that's commonly found in life insurance contracts is the incontestability clause. A life insurance claim may be denied if the insurer finds that the applicant made misstatements on the policy application and death occurs within two years of the policy's start date. If the applicant makes statements intended to defraud the insurer, there is essentially no time limit, and the claim can be denied no matter how long the policy has been in force. That's why it is very important to provide accurate information on the policy application and not withhold information or facts that are requested by the insurer.
A good example of a policy being contested involved actor Heath Ledger, who died within seven months of purchasing a $10 million life insurance policy for the benefit of his daughter. The medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was due to an accidental drug overdose. Subsequently, the insurer denied the claim on two grounds: The death was the result of an intentional drug overdose and amounted to suicide, and the insured did not disclose on the insurance application (as requested) that he was a user of illegal drugs, which is a material misrepresentation. The policy beneficiary sued the insurer, and the case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount believed to be much less than the policy death benefit.

Suicide clause
Most life insurance policies contain a suicide clause, which generally states that no death benefit will be paid if the insured's death results from suicide within two years from the inception of the policy. Often, policy owners inadvertently restart the two-year suicide clause when they replace existing life insurance with a new policy.
Even in the unfortunate circumstance that death by suicide occurs within two years from the policy's inception, the beneficiaries may still be able to receive at least a portion of the death benefit, depending on the circumstances. For example, whether death is intentional (suicide) or by accident is not always easily determined.

Policy lapse

A life insurance policy may not be in force because the coverage has lapsed. Policies may lapse for several reasons, including nonpayment of the premium and expiration of a stated term. Insurers generally send written notifications when a premium payment is past due, when the policy is about to lapse, and when a policy has actually expired. Sometimes the policy owner may inadvertently or intentionally neglect to make premium payments. In any case, the insurance beneficiary may not realize that the policy has lapsed until after the death of the insured.
An insurer may deny payment of the death benefit when death occurs outside the policy coverage term. Term life insurance provides death benefit coverage for a stated number of years, usually from one to 25 years, depending on the policy purchased. This type of insurance is also common through employer-provided plans. In any case, if the insured's death occurs after the policy term has expired, the claim for insurance proceeds will be denied.
What can you do?
Nothing can be more emotionally trying than having a life insurance claim denied while dealing with the loss of a loved one. Here are some tips that may help get the death benefit paid.
Whether you fill out the life insurance application or it is completed by a life insurance agent, be sure you review each section of the application and answer each question honestly. Do not withhold or falsify information.
Pay the premiums on time. Indicate an alternative address for mailing the premium notices and also name another individual to receive notices of premium lapses. If you move or change financial institutions and don't notify the insurer, you may forget about the premium payments and the policy could lapse without your knowledge.
If you have group life insurance, verify that it is still in force at least once each year. Also, review your policy with an insurance professional. You may not realize that your life insurance will end on a certain date.


You've probably heard that if you withdraw taxable amounts from your 401(k) or 403(b) plan before age 59½, you may be socked with a 10% early distribution penalty tax on top of the federal income taxes you'll be required to pay. But did you know that the Internal Revenue Code contains quite a few exceptions that allow you to take penalty-free withdrawals before age 59½?
Sometimes age 59½ is really age 55...or age 50
If you've reached age 55, you can take penalty-free withdrawals from your 401(k) plan after leaving your job if your employment ends during or after the year you reach age 55. This is one of the most important exceptions to the penalty tax.
And if you're a qualified public safety employee, this exception applies after you've reached age 50. You're a qualified public safety employee if you provided police protection, firefighting services, or emergency medical services for a state or municipality, and you separated from service in or after the year you attained age 50.
Be careful though. This exception applies only after you leave employment with the employer that sponsored the plan making the distribution. For example, if you worked for Employer A and quit at age 45, then took a job with Employer B and quit at age 55, only distributions from Employer B's plan would be eligible for this exception. You'll have to wait until age 59½ to take penalty-free withdrawals from Employer A's plan, unless another exception applies.
Think periodic, not lump sums
Another important exception to the penalty tax applies to "substantially equal periodic payments," or SEPPs. This exception also applies only after you've stopped working for the employer that sponsored the plan. To take advantage of this exception, you must withdraw funds from your plan at least annually based on one of three rather complicated IRS-approved distribution methods.
Regardless of which method you choose, you generally can't change or alter the payments for five years or until you reach age 59½, whichever occurs later. If you do modify the payments (for example, by taking amounts smaller or larger than required distributions or none at all), you'll again wind up having to pay the 10% penalty tax on the taxable portion of all your pre-age 59½ SEPP distributions (unless another exception applies).
And more exceptions...
Distributions described below generally won't be subject to the penalty tax even if you're under age 59½ at the time of the payment.
Distributions from your plan up to the amount of your unreimbursed medical expenses for the year that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income for that year (You don't have to itemize deductions to use this exception, and the distributions don't have to actually be used to pay those medical expenses.)Distributions made as a result of your qualifying disability (This means you must be unable to engage in any "substantial gainful activity" by reason of a "medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long-continued and indefinite duration.")Certain distributions to qualified military reservists called to active dutyDistributions made pursuant to a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO)Distributions made to your beneficiary after your death, regardless of your beneficiary's age
Keep in mind that the penalty tax applies only to taxable distributions, so tax-free rollovers of retirement assets are not subject to the penalty. Also note that the exceptions applicable to IRAs are similar to, but not identical to, the rules that apply to employer plans.


Tax filing season is here again. If you haven't done so already, you'll want to start pulling things together — that includes getting your hands on a copy of last year's tax return and gathering W-2s, 1099s, and deduction records. You'll need these records whether you're preparing your own return or paying someone else to do your taxes for you.

Don't procrastinate

The filing deadline for most individuals is Tuesday, April 18, 2017. That's because April 15 falls on a Saturday, and Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in Washington, D.C., is celebrated on Monday, April 17. Unlike last year, there's no extra time for residents of Massachusetts or Maine to file because Patriots' Day (a holiday in those two states) falls on April 17 — the same day that Emancipation Day is being celebrated.

Filing for an extension
If you don't think you're going to be able to file your federal income tax return by the due date, you can file for and obtain an extension using IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Filing this extension gives you an additional six months (to October 16, 2017) to file your federal income tax return. You can also file for an extension electronically — instructions on how to do so can be found in the Form 4868 instructions.
Filing for an automatic extension does not provide any additional time to pay your tax! When you file for an extension, you have to estimate the amount of tax you will owe and pay this amount by the April filing due date. If you don't pay the amount you've estimated, you may owe interest and penalties. In fact, if the IRS believes that your estimate was not reasonable, it may void your extension.
Special rules apply if you're living outside the country or serving in the military and on duty outside the United States. In these circumstances you are generally allowed an automatic two-month extension without filing Form 4868, though interest will be owed on any taxes due that are paid after April 18. If you served in a combat zone or qualified hazardous duty area, you may be eligible for a longer extension of time to file.

What if you owe?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not filing your return because you owe money. If your return shows a balance due, file and pay the amount due in full by the due date if possible. If there's no way that you can pay what you owe, file the return and pay as much as you can afford. You'll owe interest and possibly penalties on the unpaid tax, but you'll limit the penalties assessed by filing your return on time, and you may be able to work with the IRS to pay the remaining balance (options can include paying the unpaid balance in installments).
Expecting a refund?
The IRS is stepping up efforts to combat identity theft and tax refund fraud. New, more aggressive filters that are intended to curtail fraudulent refunds may inadvertently delay some legitimate refund requests. In fact, beginning this year, a new law requires the IRS to hold refunds on all tax returns claiming the earned income tax credit or the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit until at least February 15.1
Most filers, though, can expect a refund check to be issued within 21 days of the IRS receiving a return.

​1 (IR-2016-117, IRS Urges Taxpayers to Check Their Withholding; New Factors Increase Importance of Mid-Year Check Up, August 31, 2016)

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