April 22, 2011
Uses of Life Insurance in Estate Planning
Most people think life insurance is used for only one specific purpose: to replace the lost earnings should a primary breadwinner pass away. Those who subscribe to this theory often purchase low-cost, term insurance that expires soon after retirement. However, such thinking ignores the wide variety of uses for life insurance, especially when it comes to estate planning. Let’s examine several alternative uses of life insurance that many perhaps overlook.
1. Estate Creation – One of the most obvious, yet most overlooked, uses of life insurance is to create or expand one’s estate. Every parent wants to leave their children better off financially than they were. Life insurance can create an immediate estate for one’s children, often for pennies on the dollar. In uncertain economic times, life insurance can be an important resource to ensure our children’s economic well-being.
2. Liquidity to Pay Estate Taxes – The truth is, the IRS expects all estate taxes to be paid off within 9 months of your death. Federal estate taxes can be as high as 50% of your gross estate. The average Californian’s estate is dominated by two assets: their personal residence and their Individual Retirement Account. Neither of these assets is easily liquidated on short notice without triggering substantial tax penalties. Even if your heirs were able to liquidate one or more of these assets to pay taxes, using life insurance proceeds instead may make far greater sense.
3. Estate Equalization – In many families, the bulk of their estate is comprised of assets that aren’t easily divided among heirs, such as the family residence. Often, one heir has expressed an interest in preserving the asset, while others would prefer cash instead. Life insurance may allow you to divide your estate equally among your heirs, while reducing the need to divide assets or provide for joint ownership.
4. Family Business – Many parents who have invested their life’s work in their own business dreams that one day their children will follow in their footsteps, and take over the day-to-day management of the company. Often, this simply isn’t the case. A more typical scenario involves one child having an interest (or ability) to take over the family business, while one or more other siblings are interested in pursuing their own life goals. Forcing all your children, regardless of their interest (or business acumen) to participate in running the family business for the sake of receiving their inheritance is often a recipe for disaster. A far more sane (if less sentimental) approach is to hand over the reins of the family business to the child who shows the most
interest/ability. Using life insurance to “cash-out” the other heirs is an ideal way to preserve family harmony, as well as the continued viability of the family business.
5. Wealth Replacement – For many families, philanthropy is an integral part of their value-system. These values are often reflected in their estate plans through sizable bequests to charities upon their death. In such cases, amounts transferred to charity may reduce the inheritance of loved family members. An alternative is to use life insurance to replace the assets given to charity in a cost-effective manner. Such win-win thinking helps to preserve family harmony, while instilling the value of philanthropy in the next generation.
In each of these scenarios, we can see valuable uses of life insurance that extend far beyond mere “paycheck replacement.” We have yet to meet the family that couldn’t relate to one or more of these examples. Which one applies to your situation? I welcome the opportunity to discuss your needs in more detail.
When using life insurance in estate planning, it is important to use an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) to own the life insurance policy. This means that the proceeds of the life insurance policy will be paid directly to the beneficiaries of the ILIT free of estate or income tax.
Without an ILIT, a life insurance policy would be included in your gross estate, and your estate tax liability would be increased, not decreased.