Trust-owned Life Insurance in your Estate Plan

Trust-owned life insurance is a useful tool to accomplish estate tax and long term care planning, but requires a sophisticated trustee to handle it.

Trusts are frequently used in the estate planning process. They help with in the distribution of assets, incapacity planning and probate avoidance, making certain that everything is distributed to the right people and entities, provide creditor protection and more.  Many people don’t know that you can even place a life insurance policy within a trust.  Some trusts, typically those designed to reduce estate taxes or perform long term care planning, use trust-owned life insurance (TOLI) to accomplish those goals.

Investopedia’s recent article entitled “Can You Trust Your Trustee?” explains that life insurance in a trust is called trust-owned life insurance (TOLI). A TOLI is like bank-owned and company-owned life insurance. Trustees often do a good job of completing basic tasks, but conflicts and problems can pop up when trustees don’t understand where their loyalties should be and how to deal with complex financial issues.  A trustee has a fiduciary responsibility to the beneficiaries of a trust. The trustee is required to manage the trust assets pursuant to the instructions of the trust for the beneficiaries.

The trustee must, therefore, actively manage the insurance policy, or policies, that are owned by the trust. This includes ensuring the trust’s purposes are being served, such as providing notice to beneficiaries of withdraw rights.  It also includes determining if the policy is performing up to the projections reflected in the original life insurance illustration and identifying alternatives more in line with the goals of the trust.  New life insurance products have made some policies sold in the past obsolete and an old under-performing policy can often be replaced. However, some trustees don’t possess the skills necessary to oversee trust-owned life insurance. A trustee should understand and be aware of:

  • The policy’s performance relative to expectations
  • The last time the life insurance policy was reviewed
  • If there are other policies that may do a better job of meeting wishes and stipulations expressed in the trust document
  • Whether the credit rating of the insurance company that issued the policy has decreased and
  • If the allocation of the sub-accounts is still aligned with the investment policy statement.

Now, not all insurance needs to be TOLI.  It is important to discuss this with your attorney to determined whether a trust which owns life a life insurance policy is beneficial to you, and whether to have your insurance owned by your trust.  See here for trust basics to address this topic.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Trust-owned life insurance can have an important role in the estate plans of many people, but not all trustees have the bandwidth when it comes to insurance and estate planning to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney for assistance.

Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “Can You Trust Your Trustee?”

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Coronavirus Causes Increase in Estate Plan Updates

Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.
Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.

With the ever-increasing number of deaths from the coronavirus in Europe and the U.S., many people are now focusing on getting their estate plans in order. Phone meetings or videoconferences with estate planning attorneys have become the new way of updating estate plans, says Barron’s in the article “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know.” This is the case at Galligan & Manning where we have been meeting with our clients by phone or video conference and arranging for documents to be executed in the safety of our clients’ homes.

People are worried, and they are in a hurry too.

Here are a few tips:

Everyone should have three basic documents: a last will or revocable living trust, a financial durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. These documents will allow assets to be distributed, give another person the ability to make financial decisions, if you are too sick to do so, and  allow another person to talk to medical professionals and make medical desisions on your behalf . These same documents are also a good idea for any young adults in the family, anyone older than 18 in Texas.

However, there’s more. In addition to these basic documents, everyone needs to review their beneficiary designations on assets that include bank accounts, IRAs, annuities, insurance policies and any other assets. If family situations have changed, these may be out of date.

Also, parents of minor children need to execute documents appointing guardians to care for their minor children in the event the parent is unable to do so.

While young adults may be more worried about the financial impact of the pandemic, seniors and the elderly are concerned about having documents in order. Wealthy people are concerned about the impact that the pandemic may have on estate planning law, and some are engaged in planning to make substantial gifts, in case the current estate and give tax exemptions are lowered.

Specific issues to be discussed with an estate planning attorney:

  • The advantages of certain trusts, which provide an opportunity to direct how assets will be held, invested and distributed before and after death.
  • Financial durable powers of attorney, which appoint an agent to make financial decisions.
  • Medical powers of attorney which let people designate an agent to make health decisions on their behalf
  • HIPAA Releases which allow family members receive health care and medical information from your health care providers.
  • Living wills, which allow people to designate whether to provide life-prolonging treatment, if in a terminal state

To learn more about what you need to consider when updating your estate plan see https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-life-stages/.

Reference: Barron’s (March 22, 2020) “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know”

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Removing your House from your Trust

There are ways to remove your house from your trust, but work with an estate planning attorney to do so while preserving the trust benefits!

Occasionally clients ask for assistance in removing their house from their trust.  They do so to facilitate refinancing the house, the client wants to add a relative to the title, to ensure the home is considered a residence for Medicaid purposes or some other similar issue.  There are a number of issues to consider before doing so as the recent nj.com article entitled “I want to revoke a trust on my house. What do I do?”  points out.  Whether it is a good idea to remove your home from your trust and actually doing so will require the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney.

The answer to a question about how to get a house out of your trust is going to be in the trust terms themselves. However, if the terms of the trust are silent, the answer may be found in the trust laws in the state statutes.  If answering the question in general terms, the primary concern is whether the trust is revocable or irrevocable.

The first step is to determine whether the trust is revocable.   Most clients use revocable trusts, so assuming it is a revocable trust, the trustor (person who set up the trust) has the right to remove the house from the trust.  The trustee (probably the same person) can execute a deed conveying the property from the trust to the trustor.  That takes the property out of the trust.

In the majority of cases, this will solve the problem.  Also, if the property was removed to refinance, you can safely convey it back to the trust once the refinance is done.  Similarly, if a client wants to add someone to title to change where the property goes at death, it is often better to just change the trust terms to leave the residence to the beneficiary.  This is often better for taxes as well.

If the trust is irrevocable, it means that the house can’t be removed from the trust unless the terms of the trust permit it.  There are exceptions, such as asking a Court’s permission to revoke the trust or remove the property, or in some cases, terminating the trust with agreement of the trustee and beneficiaries, but these are more difficult options and not guaranteed.

Next, let’s look at the reason why the home was initially put in a trust.  It is important to keep these ideas in mind as removing the property from the trust may negate important benefits.   See here for the benefits https://www.galliganmanning.com/category/trusts/page/6/      There may be alternatives which accomplish the same goals as well.

If the purpose was to lower estate taxes, it may make sense to remove the house from the trust. This is especially the case if the property is in a state that doesn’t have state estate taxes.  Very few states still do.  An estate rarely meets the threshold for federal estate taxes, so clients actually save taxes by removing the property from trust.

If the property is owned by an irrevocable trust for asset protection in long-term care planning, it might make sense to keep the property in the trust.  However, if you are using a revocable trust and want to consider asset protection in long-term care planning, it is often better to keep the property in your name. This is because Medicaid may exempt your residence if you own it personally.  In our office, we prepare “Lady Bird deeds” for Texas residences which allow a client to own the residence personally, and transfer it to the trust automatically when they pass away.  This works with both asset protection planning and probate planning.

If the trust owned the property for probate avoidance, the property often will be put back into the trust or conveyed at death to the trust such as with the Lady Bird deed.

In sum, there are some reasons to remove property from a trust, but doing so should always involve an experienced estate planning to preserve the benefits of the trust and to ensure your goals are met.

Reference: nj.com (Feb. 4, 2020) “I want to revoke a trust on my house. What do I do?”

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