Evaluating Death Benefit Riders on Annuities

Death Benefit Rider
Daughter supporting disabled elderly mother after fathers death, care and family


Annuities are a type of financial product that provides a steady stream of income in exchange for a lump sum investment. Many annuity contracts also offer death benefit riders that provide additional benefits to beneficiaries in the event of the annuitant’s death. The death benefit payments can vary depending on the terms of the rider and the type of annuity contract. For those planning to secure their financial future and support their loved ones, death benefit riders are significant. However, evaluating these riders can be a complex and confusing process.

This article discusses crucial aspects to review when assessing death benefit riders on annuities, ensuring maximum value for your investment.

Type of Death Benefit Rider

There are different types of death benefit riders available on annuities. Some provide a guaranteed minimum death benefit, while others offer a return of premium or an enhanced death benefit. Some of them are discussed as under:

  • Guaranteed Minimum Death Benefit (GMDB): This benefit guarantees that the beneficiary will receive at least the original investment amount or a specified minimum amount, even if the actual value of the annuity has decreased.
  • Return of Premium Death Benefit (ROP): This benefit guarantees that the beneficiary will receive the original investment amount minus any withdrawals made by the annuitant during their lifetime.
  • Enhanced Death Benefit (EDB): This benefit provides a higher death benefit amount than the original investment amount, typically by guaranteeing a certain rate of return or a percentage of the annuity’s investment gains.
  • Step-Up Death Benefit Rider: This rider allows the death benefit amount to be periodically adjusted based on the annuity’s investment performance. For example, the death benefit amount may be increased annually to reflect any gains in the annuity’s value.
  • Joint and Survivor Annuity: A joint and survivor annuity is a type of annuity contract that provides income to two individuals, typically a married couple, for the duration of their lifetimes. The annuity payments continue post the first annuitant’s death, with the surviving annuitant receiving a decreased benefit amount. The annuity contract specifies terms of joint and survivor annuity, such as the percentage of payment for the surviving annuitant. The reduced payment amount for the surviving annuitant is often a fixed or age-based percentage of the full annuity payment. Immediate and deferred annuities are two possible structures for annuity payments. The immediate payments start right away, and deferred payments allow for accumulation.

Considerations Before Buying a Death Benefit Rider

Cost and Surrender Charges

When evaluating death benefit riders, it is important to consider the cost of the rider. Adding a death benefit rider can increase the cost of the annuity, which can reduce the overall annuity’s investment return.  The rider fee can vary depending on the terms of the rider and the type of annuity contract. It is important to carefully review the fees associated with the rider and compare them to the potential benefits of the rider. This helps one determine whether it is worth the expense.

Annuity contracts may impose surrender charges if you withdraw money from the contract before a specified period of time has elapsed. You should evaluate the surrender charges to determine whether they are reasonable and whether they will affect your ability to access the death benefit.

Payout Structure 

Another important factor to consider when evaluating death benefit riders is the payout structure. Some death benefit riders provide a lump-sum payment to the beneficiary, while others may provide a series of payments over time. The payout structure can have a significant impact on the value of the rider and the amount of financial support it provides to the beneficiary.

It is also important to consider the conditions under which the death benefit rider will be paid out. Some riders may only pay out if the annuity holder dies within a certain time period after purchasing the annuity. Others may require the annuity holder to reach a certain age before the rider can be activated. Understanding the conditions under which the death benefit rider will be paid out is critical to determining its value.

Financial Strength of the Insurance Company

Additionally, it is important to consider the financial stability of the insurance company offering the death benefit rider. The insurer’s financial strength and credit rating can have an impact on the security of the death benefit payment. The death benefit rider is only as good as the financial strength of the insurance company issuing the annuity contract. It is important to research the insurer’s financial stability and credit rating before purchasing an annuity with a death benefit rider.

Individual Needs and Goals

It is also important to consider the individual needs and goals of the annuity holder when evaluating death benefit riders. Some annuity holders may prioritize a larger death benefit payment, while others may prefer a lower fee for the rider. Understanding your own goals and needs can help you select a death benefit rider best suited to your situation.

Tax Implication

In general, the death benefit paid out through a death benefit rider is not subject to income tax. However, there may be certain situations where a portion of the death benefit could be subject to income tax. For example, if the policyholder had previously taken out a loan against the cash value of the policy, and the death benefit is not enough to cover the outstanding loan balance, then the remaining loan balance may be subject to income tax.

The death benefit paid out through a death benefit rider could also be subject to estate tax if the policyholder’s estate is large enough to be subject to estate tax. In this case, the death benefit would be included in the value of the estate and could be subject to estate tax.

In addition, if the policyholder transfers ownership of the policy to someone else, such as a beneficiary or a trust, the transfer may be subject to the gift tax. However, certain gift tax exclusions and exemptions may apply, such as the annual exclusion and the lifetime exemption.


In conclusion, evaluating death benefit riders on annuities can be a complex process. It is important to consider the cost of the rider, the payout structure, the conditions under which the rider will be paid out, the financial stability of the insurer, and your individual needs and goals, among others. By carefully evaluating these factors, you can select a death benefit rider that provides the financial security and peace of mind you need for yourself and your loved ones.


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