Corporate-Owned Life Insurance (COLI) is a unique policy designed for businesses. Unlike standard life insurance policies that typically benefit family members, COLI benefits the company directly. This setup has significant financial and ethical consequences for both the company and its workforce.

COLI serves as a financial tool that businesses use for various reasons. It provides a safeguard against the financial challenges that can emerge if a crucial employee unexpectedly passes away. The loss of such an employee can lead to increased costs in hiring and training replacements, as well as potential business disruptions. Additionally, the growth in COLI’s cash value can be used to support future employee benefits, like retirement plans.

But COLI’s appeal isn’t just about protection or employee benefits. It also offers tax benefits. Although the premiums paid by the company aren’t tax-deductible, the death benefits usually are tax-free. Plus, the growth in the policy’s cash value is tax-deferred. This tax setup, along with the ability to record the COLI policy’s cash value as an asset, can strengthen a company’s financial standing.

However, COLI’s world is interconnected with life settlements. A company might choose to sell its COLI policy in the life settlement market, either to reassess its financial strategies or due to workforce changes. Such sales can often yield a value higher than the policy’s cash surrender value, but they also come with their own set of challenges and ethical questions.

In this article, we explain the nuances of COLI, its tax implications, and its interplay with life settlements, it’s crucial to approach the topic with a discerning eye, understanding the benefits, the potential pitfalls, and the broader implications for businesses and their employees.

What is Corporate-Owned Life Insurance?

Corporate-Owned Life Insurance (COLI) is a type of life insurance policy taken out by a company on the lives of its employees. The company pays the premiums and is also the policy’s primary beneficiary. If the insured employee passes away, the death benefit is paid out to the company, not to the employee’s family or other personal beneficiaries.


COLI is typically used for several purposes:

  • Key Person Insurance: To protect the company against the financial loss that could occur if a key employee, such as a top executive or specialist, were to die. The death benefit can help offset the costs of recruiting, hiring, and training a replacement and any potential lost business or profits.
  • Funding Employee Benefits: The cash value growth within a COLI policy can help fund future employee benefits, such as retirement plans.
  • Tax Benefits: The premiums paid by the company are not tax-deductible, but the death benefits received are generally tax-free. Additionally, the cash value growth within the policy is tax-deferred.
  • Balance Sheet Improvement: The cash value of a COLI policy can be recorded as an asset on the company’s balance sheet, which can enhance the company’s financial position.

How Does Corporate-Owned Life Insurance (COLI) Work?

Corporate-Owned Life Insurance is a policy taken out by companies on their employees. The company pays the premiums and is also the beneficiary, meaning the death benefit goes to the company if the insured employee passes away. These policies can serve as financial tools, helping companies fund obligations related to employee benefits or protect against the financial impact of losing a key employee.

Requirements of Corporate-Owned Life Insurance (COLI)

Certain requirements must be met for a company to take out a COLI policy. The insured employees typically belong to the company’s top tier or highest-compensated group. Additionally, the employee must be informed about the policy, including the company’s intent to insure them and the coverage amount. The employee must also be notified if the company stands to benefit from the policy.

Tax Implications of Corporate-Owned Life Insurance (COLI)

Life insurance is a tax-advantaged vehicle. However, COLI policies come with specific tax rules. While the death benefits are generally tax-free, stipulations are in place to ensure companies don’t misuse COLI for tax arbitrage. For instance, the company must adhere to notification and consent requirements to avail tax-free death benefits.

The Intersection of COLI And Life Settlements

A Corporate-Owned Life Insurance (COLI) policy can be sold as a life settlement. If a company determines that it no longer requires the COLI policy, perhaps due to changes in its financial objectives or the departure of a key employee, it can sell the policy in the life settlement market. 

By selling the corporate life insurance policy, the company might obtain a value higher than the policy’s cash surrender value offered by the insurance company. When sold, the life settlement buyer becomes responsible for future premium payments and, in return, will receive the death benefit upon the passing of the insured individual.

FAQs on Corporate-Owned Life Insurance

How does corporate-owned life insurance work?

COLI is a life insurance policy taken out by a company on its employees. The company pays the premiums and, in return, is the policy beneficiary.

What are the disadvantages of corporate-owned life insurance?

One potential disadvantage is the public perception, as some view COLI as companies profiting from employee deaths. Additionally, there are strict tax regulations and requirements to adhere to.

Can a corporation pay for owner life insurance?

Yes, a corporation can pay for the owner’s life insurance, but the purpose and beneficiary arrangements must be clearly defined to comply with tax regulations.

Is company-owned life insurance an investment?

While COLI provides financial benefits, it’s primarily a risk management tool, not a traditional investment.

What are the advantages of corporate-owned life insurance?

COLI offers tax advantages, helps fund employee benefits, provides financial protection against losing key employees, and can improve a company’s balance sheet.

Is company-owned life insurance worth it?

COLI can be a valuable tool for many companies, especially those with key employees whose loss would significantly impact operations.

What is the cash surrender value of corporate-owned life insurance?

The cash surrender value is the amount the policyholder (the company) would receive if they chose to terminate the policy before the insured event occurs.

How are corporate-owned life insurance proceeds taxed?

Generally, death benefits from COLI are tax-free. However, there are specific requirements and regulations to ensure compliance.

What type of life insurance is best for business owners?

The best type depends on the business needs. Some options include term life insurance, whole life insurance, or key person insurance.

Can you open a life insurance policy in a business name?

Yes, businesses can take out life insurance policies on key employees or owners, with the business as the beneficiary.