Private Placement Life Insurance, PPLI


  • Author Thomas Swenson
  • Published December 16, 2022
  • Word count 714

Private placement life insurance (PPLI) is an underutilized, but potentially versatile and highly efficient investment vehicle. It is useful not only for wealthy families. An individual or family having a net worth of only $1 million to $5 million is financially able to fund a PPLI policy.

As with all life insurance policies under the U.S. tax code (IRC § 7702), no income or capital gains taxes are paid on investment growth of assets held in a private placement life insurance (PPLI) policy. Accordingly, assets in the life insurance wrapper can grow and be distributed to beneficiaries completely free of income tax. Generally, estate taxes must be paid upon death of the insured if PPLI is in the estate of the insured. Estate taxes can be avoided, however, if the PPLI policy is owned by an irrevocable life insurance trust, ILIT.

Foreign-based PPLI has advantages over domestic PPLI. It has lower minimum premium commitments (min. premium commitment usu. $1 million), and has lower start-up fees and carrying costs. In contrast to foreign PPLI, domestic PPLI requires a minimum premium commitment of $5 million or more, only in cash, has higher fees, and is subject to state-imposed investment restrictions. Of course, as a variable product, PPLI is exposed to the market risks of its investments.

It is well known that domestic whole and universal life insurance policies provide tax-deferred growth of the policy’s cash or investment value. The cash value of a conventional policy (i.e., not variable and not privately placed), however, is part of the general investment fund of an insurance company. Growth of cash value within a whole life insurance policy is generally relatively low, usually a few percent annually. Growth in a fixed index universal life (IUL) insurance policy is typically greater, but with fewer guarantees.

Private placement life insurance (PPLI), in contrast, is a privately negotiated life insurance contract between insurance carrier and policy owner. PPLI offers several advantages compared to standard policies. Policy funds are held in segregated accounts that theoretically protect the funds against the carrier’s creditors. PPLI enables a wider range of investment opportunities managed by a professional investment adviser selected by the policy owner. Finally, policy costs are transparent, negotiable and typically lower than off-the-shelf insurance products. A problem with domestic insurance companies offering PPLI in the U.S., however, is that they typically require a minimum insurance premium commitment of $10 million to $50 million.

Offshore PPLI policies are more favorable than domestic PPLI based in United States. Offshore insurance companies are not subject to strict SEC and state insurance regulations in the U.S., which limit the types of investments available to domestic insurance policies. Further, offshore PPLI policies are not subject to the state premium taxes charged by the various states. Although a policy issued by a foreign insurance carrier is subject to a 1% U.S. excise tax, this is balanced by not being subject to the federal deferred acquisition cost (DAC) tax. One of the major benefits of offshore PPLI is that it is offshore, meaning that the offshore life insurance carrier can be selected so that it is not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Offshore PPLI typically has a minimum premium commitment of $1 million total over five to seven years, and fees associated with offshore PPLI are typically about 1.5% to 2% of premium load.

An alternative to PPLI is a foreign deferred variable annuity (DVA).

For more detailed information about US tax-law compliant PPLI, please consult the Law Office of Thomas J Swenson using the link in the resource box.

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