How a key employee can make you or break you

July 14, 2014

 

You’ve got a great group working for you now, and business is good. You know that much of that success is due to one or two key people with both skills and personalities that are hard to match. Suppose they were injured and out of work for a while, or suppose they died? Would your business survive? Key employee life and disability insurance coverage can help make sure that it does.

When bad things happen to good people

Your key employees are those special people with such unique skills and talents that they contribute greatly to the financial success of your business. If a key employee were disabled, or were to die, your business would suffer immensely. Here are some possibilities:

If key employee out of work, revenue they generate will substantially decrease

You’ll incur unexpected expenses recruiting and training a temporary or permanent replacement

Inexperienced employees trying to fill in can create costly mistakes or delays

Key person dies, business loans may come due

Customers or employees may look elsewhere, as future of the business may seem concerning

Key employee life and disability insurance policies do soften the impact of these blows. These policies are sold to small or medium-size businesses; it’s in those operations that a single person can impact the bottom line.

If death parts you — key employee life insurance

Typically, your business purchases a life insurance policy on a key employee, pays the premiums, and is the beneficiary upon their death. The business as owner of the policy,   may surrender, borrow, and use either the cash value or death benefits as it sees fit.

Puttinga dollar value on a key employee’s economic worth may be difficult. Although there are no rules or formulas, several possible methods make sense. The appropriate level of coverage might be the cost of recruiting and training an adequate replacement. Alternatively, the insurance amount might be the key employee’s annual salary times the number of years a newly hired replacement might take to reach a similar skill level. Finally, you might consider the key employee’s value in terms of company profits; the level of insurance coverage might then be tied to any anticipated profit loss.

The premiums you pay for key employee life insurance are not a tax-deductible business expense for federal income tax purposes, since your business is the recipient of the benefits. Prior to August 16, 2006, the death benefits your company receives as the beneficiary of the policy aren’t considered to be taxable income. But for policies issued after August 16, 2006, proceeds from a life insurance policy insuring the life of an employee and payable to the employer-policy owner may be subject to income tax, unless an exception applies. Also, if your business is a C corporation, the death benefits may increase the corporation’s liability for the alternative minimum tax. You should consult a tax professional for information on your circumstances.

Riding out the hurt–key employee disability insurance

The death of a key employee isn’t the only threat to your business. Suppose a key employee is injured or becomes ill? Disability insurance on a key employee is another way you can protect your business against financial loss.

Usually, these policies define disability as the inability of the employee to perform his or her normal job duties due to injury or illness. As with life insurance, your business buys a disability insurance policy on the employee, pays the premiums, and is named as the beneficiary. When the employee is disabled, the insurance coverage pays monthly disability benefits to your business. These benefits can equal a certain percentage of the key person’s monthly salary, up to either a maximum monthly limit or 100 percent of that salary. The benefits may be used to pay the operating expenses of the business and to cover the expense of finding a temporary or permanent replacement for the key employee.

The policies typically offer elimination periods (i.e., the waiting period between the disability and when the benefits begin) ranging from 30 to 180 days. Depending on the policy, your business may receive the benefits for six to 18 months — long enough to allow the key employee to return to work or to allow the company to replace the key employee. The policy is normally a non-cancelable contract, guaranteeing the premiums and the coverage amount. A waiver of premium option can be an important part of these policies. This option provides that, once the elimination period has been satisfied, the insurance company will pay the premiums as long as the disability lasts or until the benefit period ends.

Sometimes included in the base disability policy coverage (or available as an optional benefit for an additional premium) is personnel replacement expense coverage that pays for the cost of finding and hiring a replacement for the key employee. Your business will be compensated for actual replacement expenses incurred, including advertising costs, employment agency fees, and the first three months of the new employee’s salary.

 

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