Life insurance has long provided a source of liquidity to pay estate taxes and other expenses. But, with the estate tax exemption currently set at an inflation-adjusted $10 million ($11.40 million for 2019), estate taxes are no longer a concern for many families. Nonetheless, life insurance offers many benefits for nontaxable estates.
If you own life insurance policies at your death, the proceeds will be included in your taxable estate. Ownership is usually determined by several factors, including who has the right to name the beneficiaries of the proceeds. If estate taxes are a concern, the way around this problem is to not own the policies when you die. However, don’t automatically rule out your ownership, either.
4 possible owners
To choose the best owner, consider why you want the insurance. Do you want to replace income? Provide liquidity? Or transfer wealth to your heirs? And how important are tax implications, flexibility, control, and cost and ease of administration? Here are four types of owners:
- You or your spouse. There are several nontax benefits to your ownership, primarily relating to flexibility and control. The biggest drawback is estate tax risk. Ownership by you or your spouse generally works best when your combined assets, including insurance, won’t place either of your estates into a taxable situation.
- Your children. Ownership by your children works best when your primary goal is to pass wealth to them. On the plus side, proceeds aren’t subject to estate tax on your or your spouse’s death, and your children receive all of the proceeds tax-free. On the minus side, policy proceeds are paid to your children outright. This may not be in accordance with your estate plan objectives and may be especially problematic if a child has creditor problems.
- Your business. Company ownership or sponsorship of insurance on your life can work well when you have cash flow concerns related to paying premiums. Company sponsorship can allow premiums to be paid in part or in whole by the business under a split-dollar arrangement. But if you’re the controlling shareholder of the company and the proceeds are payable to a beneficiary other than the business, the proceeds could be included in your estate for estate tax purposes.
- An ILIT. A properly structured irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) could save you estate taxes on any insurance proceeds. The trust owns the policy and pays the premiums. When you die, the proceeds pass into the trust and aren’t included in your estate. The trust can be structured to provide benefits to your surviving spouse and/or other beneficiaries.
Questions and answers
If you’re planning to include life insurance in your estate plan but are unsure of the best way to do so, contact us. Given your circumstances, we can help you determine who should own the policy.