Q. “How much life insurance (if any) is wise for a high-level executive? I have no children, am the sole income earner in the household, have a net worth of several million dollars and an annual income of between $250,000 and $400,000.” — Name Withheld

A. Probably none. Especially as you already doubtless have some coverage at work as part of your benefits package. If there are no dependents who’d be hurt financially if you died, then there is no need for life insurance. Your “several million” will pass to your spouse tax free, unless you have indicated otherwise in your will. Also: the proceeds of your company-paid life insurance benefits, if you designated your spouse the beneficiary. Let’s call it $6 million in all. That should be enough to maintain your spouse’s lifestyle — and there would be Social Security survivor benefits to boot.

Note the difference, though, if the other person in your household is a life partner whom you had chosen not to marry, or whom you are forbidden by law from marrying. (In the old days, that could have been because one of you was black, the other white. Today, it would be because you are a same-sex couple.) Of the $6 million, better than $2 million would be grabbed in estate tax — and there would be no Social Security survivor benefits. You and your partner might have been together for 35 years, but you are not entitled to the tax break and Social Security benefits accorded a married couple together even a few months.

Some people complain about “the marriage penalty,” but marriage has financial advantages as well. (Actually, in a “traditional” marriage, where one spouse works and the other does not, filing jointly provides a marriage bonus.)

For those interested in issues of equality, I commend to you the President’s Gay Pride Proclamation from this past Friday — the first such any President has ever offered.


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