At first thought, life insurance may not seem to have a bearing on how to dispose of your assets in your estate plan. However, life insurance can be an integral, indispensably important part of a well-thought-out estate plan. There are numerous other benefits to owning a life insurance policy aside from providing a large sum of money to beneficiaries.

  • Life insurance provides immediate cash upon death that can pay debts, final income taxes of the insured, and funeral expenses.
  • Life insurance cash can also pay estate taxes and avoid the forced sale of assets.
  • Mostly, the proceeds from life insurance will pass to the named beneficiary free of income tax.
  • Life insurance proceeds can transfer to a trust as part of a will the insured created for the benefit of minor children, special needs, or elderly relatives.
  • The proceeds of a life insurance policy can be payable to someone other than the insured’s estate and avoid passing through probate when owned by an irrevocable insurance trust. For example, the funds can pay marital settlement obligations for spousal or child support.
  • If the insured owns a closely-held business, a life insurance policy can fund a buy out of their interest.
  • Proper beneficiary designation forms of a life insurance policy prevent proceeds from going through probate.

Do not underestimate the importance of having cash funds immediately available in an uncomplicated way. Often the passing of a loved one or family member comes with a string of expenses that often exceed cost expectations. Much of what Americans have resides in investments like 401ks, IRAs, housing, and other illiquid assets with very little cash on hand. Life insurance proceeds protect families from having to force the sale of these assets at unfavorable tax rates. Some inheritable assets come with immediate payment requirements. Homes not fully paid off, cars, and the like can leave families with short-term liabilities requiring cash.

Understanding Estate Planning Strategies with a Life Insurance Policy

One of the more popular estate planning strategies that fit many situations is an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). Though a beneficiary or third party cannot rescind the trust, modified, or amended post creation, it still offers heirs several financial and legal advantages. These advantages include asset protection, favorable tax treatment, and assurance beneficiaries use the proceeds in a manner concurrent with the benefactor’s wishes. Typically, life insurance policies are the chief assets held in an ILIT.

Before purchasing a life insurance policy, particularly if you want to create an ILIT, speak with your estate planning attorney regarding potential income and estate tax consequences. If you have an estate large enough, it can be subject to federal and state estate taxes depending on the applicable laws in place at the time of your passing. Your ILIT should be in place before binding a life insurance policy to it. Remember that states have different laws regarding an ILIT; to avoid problems, your ILIT must follow your state’s rules.

Using a Gifting Strategy for your Life Insurance Plan

It is possible to gift an existing life insurance policy to your ILIT. Unfortunately, if you were to die within three years of making the gift, the policy amount can be included in your estate for tax purposes due to a rule known as a “lookback period.” In effect, this isn’t making the policy proceeds taxable, but it adds the policy proceeds amount to the total value of the estate, in turn making it part of your estate subject to taxes. As federal estate tax exemption amounts frequently change, it is prudent to fund your ILIT by purchasing a new policy. Doing so will avoid the possibility of a lookback period.

When using an ILIT, whether or not you are married, use the second to die, survivorship policy, or are single and have an individual policy must be considered. Choosing between variations of permanent life insurance for your ILIT, such as whole standard life, universal life, and variable life insurance, can be confusing, and your estate planning attorney can guide you to your best option.

If you own a business and one adult child will take over the business. Still, other adult children are not interested or involved in the enterprise. The life insurance proceeds can provide the cash to buy out those inheritors’ business interests while leaving the business intact. Blended family systems can also benefit from life insurance payouts to ensure that all children receive an inheritance, not just the children of the last surviving spouse.

Life insurance should be a part of your family estate plan. It can increase the wealth your heirs inherit and provide a ready source of cash for immediate financial obligations after your death. Which form of life insurance best suits your needs will depend on your age and situation. 

To speak with your estate planning attorney about how to use life insurance as an effective tool in your estate planning, please contact us to schedule a meeting. We are here to help.

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Orange County Estate Planning Attorney Kevin SnyderKevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an Orange County estate planning attorney and elder law attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He's all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help people be prepared and have the peace of mind they are protecting their families and aging parents for when life happens.

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