How to Maximize your Legacy Estate Planning

Even though Congress has increased the estate tax exemption to $5.12 million for individuals and $10.240 million for couples, you still need to understand the threat of estate taxes on your legacy planning.  Even though Congress has labeled these exemptions permanent, will they be changed in the future by another congress and president to fix what ails the country at that time? 

Key Point – Tax avoidance does not equate to a reduced need for legacy planning to transfer wealth for non-taxable reasons.

You still need to be educated on issues that could distress the financial security provided by the proceeds of your life insurance policy. Beyond estate taxes, there is the potential for probate, gift taxes, financial mismanagement, and misuse.  Proper legacy planning is necessary to help avoid these threats.

Why and How much life insurance should you own?

If you have any concern that your entire estate will eventually exceed the current exemption limits, either single or married, than you should speak with a Tax Free Retirement Specialist to help with legacy planning to determine how much life insurance you should have.  Your beneficiaries can then pay the federal estate tax from the life insurance benefits without having to sell any of the estate assets.  Without the life insurance proceeds, they might have to sell estate assets most likely triggering capital gains tax on top of the estate tax.  You see, when you pass away, the Federal government is going to try and get as much money as they can.  It’s your responsibility with legacy planning to use the appropriate tax advantaged tools to protect as much of your wealth and pass it along to the next generation or a charity of your choice.

What type of life insurance?

Indexed universal life insurance will appeal to most people because of the ability to provide higher interest crediting strategies in the current low interest rate environment.  The internal rate of return of life insurance at life expectancy is now superior to returns offered by alternative fixed income vehicles – a result of life insurance’s tax advantaged status.  Because of low interest rates and the almost guaranteed fact that taxes will eventually rise, insurance products that offer tax-deferral are more beneficial to consumers today.

Who should own the life insurance policy?

If you don’t own it yourself, there are three practical options for the ownership of your life insurance.  We discuss the owner as being the beneficiary to prevent a taxable event.  Because if the owner, the beneficiary, and insured are all different people it becomes taxable.

  • Your spouse as owner and beneficiary:

The concern here is not that they receives the life insurance proceeds, but what happens when they eventually passes away.  The original proceeds of your life insurance policy may be subject to estate taxes and perhaps probate administration when they eventually die. In addition they will be responsible for investing the proceeds of your policy. This can be quite an emotional burden on a spouse not prepared or equipped to handle financial decisions making.

  • Your child as owner and beneficiary:

If the child is the owner, then the child is responsible for paying the premiums (unless the policy is a single premium policy).  Make sure they are capable of this responsibility because you do not want the policy to lapse because of an error. Your child also will be the legal owner of the policy proceeds.  Make sure the life insurance policy has enough proceeds to allow them to pay the estate to settle taxes, fees, and other expenses.

  • An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT):

This may be the better choice for ownership as long as the Trust is not the beneficiary of the life insurance policy.   If the ILIT is the beneficiary of your life insurance, the proceeds may be included in your estate and become taxable.  The ILIT should only be the owner with the beneficiary usually being your children, grandchildren, or a charity.  This way the proceeds of your life insurance pass outside of your estate and are not taxable in most cases.  An ILIT can help avoid threats to your policy’s proceeds.  Because the designated trustee must manage the ILIT for your benefit, it helps ensure the availability of liquid funds when they are most needed.  The use of an irrevocable life insurance Trust can provide an opportunity for families to utilize the benefits of their life insurance to pay estate and other expenses as needed.

A few other points about an ILIT

Once created properly by an attorney, the trust is irrevocable and cannot be changed.  The insured person may not retain the right to revoke, alter, amend, transfer, or terminate the Trust, meaning they can’t even change beneficiaries.  The insured must be totally and completely economically disassociated from the ILIT. 

The best time to create an ILIT is before the life insurance policy is bought, and then when the life insurance application is taken, the owner of the policy is designated as the irrevocable life insurance Trust. Also, make sure you are insurable so you don’t waste the cost of creating an ILIT. 

To find a local Tax Free Retirement Specialist in your click here.


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