Benefits of Life Insurance in Estate Planning

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with clients about life insurance in their estate plans.  As an estate planner, I like life insurance.  It provides many benefits in estate planning that are worth considering.  So, I wanted to address some benefits of life insurance.

I’m not doing to talk about whether you should get it per se (other advisors are better suited for that and we can recommend excellent ones), and I’m not going to talk about the financial pros and cons, but instead will focus on the role of life insurance in an estate plan and administration.  For more on how insurance works and the pros and cons, you may want to read Bankrate’s recent article entitled “Life insurance for parents” which exams how life insurance can help your family.

Liquidity:Sometimes clients will ask for very detailed estate plans involving several bequests.  The estate plan is truly their legacy, and they want to express their love and appreciation to many people by giving them a gift in their estate planning.  I think that’s wonderful, but it does present a problem if the estate is illiquid.

For example, a client may have a very healthy estate of $3,500,000 and want to leave $100,000 a piece to 7 different relatives.  That’s fine in theory, but where do you get $700,000 in cash?  That client might have a house, a vacation/beach home, retirement and minimal bank accounts.  The 401(k) might have to (or tax wise should) go to his spouse.  If the house is worth $750,000, the beach home $250,000 and the retirement $2,000,000, you don’t have enough cash left over to give $700,000 to the family, unless you start selling.  With life insurance, you have the cash available.

Estate Tax Planning.This is a bit more complicated, but for clients concerned about estate tax, life insurance is a very useful tool.

The first reason why is similar to the liquidity point.  If you know you are going to pay the estate tax, which is a 40% tax rate on the value of the estate which exceeds your exemption, you may have a rather large check to write.  So, having cash at death provides your beneficiaries with a way to pay the tax without having to liquidate assets at death.

Second, it has a low lifetime value, and most of the value comes post death.  So, if you want to leave more money to your beneficiaries while keeping a smaller amount of assets during your lifetime, you may consider using life insurance in an irrevocable trust.  Here is a useful article talking about how life insurance trusts work.

https://www.galliganmanning.com/the-irrevocable-life-insurance-trust-why-should-you-have-one/

Providing for Beneficiaries with Disabilities: Life insurance is a great income replacement tool, which the Bankrate’s article addresses.  In this particular estate planning context, it is an extremely useful tool for planning for beneficiaries with disabilities.  For example, many couples who have a child with disabilities will provide for that child for as long as they are able.  Their lifetime support provides benefits, both tangible and intangible, for their child that government benefits can’t address.  However, that support may go away when you pass.

Now, that situation is often best addressed by leaving assets to that child in a supplement needs trust, but more importantly, the assets you leave have to be liquid as you know they will be used liberally for the care of your loved one.  So, creating a trust to hold the insurance, such as an inexpensive second-to-die policy, allows the cash to be held in a tax and benefits-efficient manner for your loved one.

Simplicity.Life insurance, in its simplest form, is a contract for a company to give cash to a person you named when you die.  That money is income tax free and doesn’t have complicated rules about how to distribute the proceeds.  For comparison, retirement assets like IRA’s and other qualified retirement funds have complicated rules about to whom they pay out, how long those beneficiaries have to take the money and very specific steps to follow to obtain them.  Retirement assets are wonderful of course because tax deferral allows retirement assets to grow tremendously and provide for your retirement, but are taxed to beneficiaries and don’t flow through your estate plan as easily as life insurance proceeds.

Creditor ProtectionThis is not true everywhere, but in Texas life insurance has creditor protection.  So, there are situations where an estate or a beneficiary has creditors, but life insurance can be shielded.  You don’t want to rely on that alone for asset protection planning, but is a helpful feature that cash in a bank account lacks.

If you have life insurance and want to discuss its role in your estate plan, please reach out to your estate planning attorney to learn how it can help you.

Reference: Bankrate (July 26, 2022) “Life insurance for parents”