Can I Protect My Estate with Life Insurance?

Life insurance is a powerful estate planning tool which protects the estate by providing liquidity to preserve assets and to pay estate taxes and expenses.

With proper planning, insurance money can pay expenses, such as estate tax and keep other assets intact, says FedWeek’s article entitled “Protect Your Estate With Life Insurance.”

The article provides the story of “Bill” as an example. He dies and leaves a large estate to his daughter Julia. There are significant estate taxes due. However, most of Bill’s assets are tied up in real estate and an IRA. Julia may not want to hurry into a forced sale of the real estate. If she taps the inherited IRA to raise cash, she’ll be forced to pay income tax on the withdrawal and lose a valuable opportunity for extended tax deferral.

A wise move for Bill would be to purchase life insurance on his own life. The policy’s proceeds could be used to pay the estate tax bill. Julia will then be able to keep the real estate, while taking only the Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from the inherited IRA. It might make sense if Julia owns the insurance policy or it’s owned by a trust as well.  See here for more details on how that might work for you.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/trust-owned-life-insurance-in-your-estate-plan/

However, there are a few common life insurance errors that can damage an estate plan:

Designating the estate as beneficiary. If you make this move, you put the policy proceeds in your estate, where the money will be exposed to estate tax and your creditors. Your executor will also have additional paperwork, if your estate is the beneficiary. Instead, be certain to name the appropriate beneficiaries.

Designating a single beneficiary. Name at least two “backup” or contingency beneficiaries. This will eliminate some confusion in the event the primary beneficiary should predecease you.

Designating your revocable trust.  If estate taxes aren’t a concern and you use a trust-based estate plan, sometimes designating your trust as a beneficiary is a great idea as it provides liquidity to your family for estate expenses.

Placing your life insurance in the “file and forget” file. Be sure to review your policies at least once every three years. If the beneficiary is an ex-spouse or someone who has passed away, you need to make the appropriate change and get a confirmation, in writing, from your life insurance company.

Inadequate insurance. You may not have enough life insurance. If you have a young child, it may require hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay all of his or her expenses, such as college tuition and expenses, in the event of your untimely death. Skimping on insurance may hurt your surviving family. You also don’t need to be so thrifty, because today’s term insurance costs are very low.

As you can see, life insurance may be a powerful estate tool.  Speak with your advisor and your estate planning attorney on how best to incorporate life insurance in your estate plan.

Reference: FedWeek (June 11, 2020) “Protect Your Estate With Life Insurance”

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That Last Step: Trust Funding

A trust only controls the assets it owns, so don’t forget the critical last step in a trust estate plan: properly funding the trust.

Neglecting to fund trusts is a surprisingly common mistake, and one that can undo the best estate plans. Many people put it on the back burner, then forget about it, says the article “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding” from Forbes.

If you read our blogs routinely, you’ll know we are fans of trust planning.  Done properly with appropriate trust funding, a trust helps avoid probate, provides for you and your family in the event of incapacity and streamlines the estate process.

Creating a revocable trust gives you control. With a revocable trust, you can make changes to the trust while you are living, including funding. Think of a trust like an empty box—you can put assets in it now, or after you pass. If you transfer assets to the trust now, however, your executor won’t have to do it when you die.

Note that if you don’t put assets in the trust while you are living, those assets may go through the probate process. While the executor will have the authority to transfer assets, they’ll have to get court to appoint them as executor first. That takes time and costs money. It is much better if you do it yourself while you are living.

A trust helps if you become incapacitated. You may be managing the trust while you are living, but what happens if you die or become too sick to manage your own affairs? If the trust is funded and a successor trustee has been named, the successor trustee will be able to manage your assets and take care of you and your family. If the successor trustee has control of an empty, unfunded trust, it may not do very much good.  Instead, an agent under a power of attorney, or if none, a court-appointed guardian may have to be appointed.

Move the right assets to the right trust. It’s very important that any assets you transfer to the trust are aligned with your estate plan. I cannot stress this enough, but you should speak with an attorney regarding how to fund your specific trust.  Not all plans and assets are the same, and different plans call for different trust funding.   That said, taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts and real estate are usually transferred into a trust either immediately during lifetime or upon death via a beneficiary designation. Some tangible assets may be transferred into the trust, as well as business interests.  Some assets, such as life insurance and retirement funds may designate the trust in some manner by beneficiary designation, but in light of the Secure Act changes you’ll definitely want to discuss that with your attorney.   See here for more:  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-the-secure-act-impacts-your-estate-plan/

Your estate planning attorney, financial advisor and insurance broker should be consulted to avoid making expensive mistakes. You should also consider trust funding when you review your estate plan to ensure it is updated with new assets.

You’ve worked hard to accumulate assets and protecting them with a trust is a good idea. Just don’t forget the final step of funding the trust.

Reference: Forbes (July 13, 2020) “Don’t Overlook Your Trust Funding”

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Can Mom Leave a Home to a Child but Not Grandchildren?

You have many options on how to leave a home to your child, but not a grandchild, including a will, trust and an enhanced life estate deed.

There are numerous ways to pass your property at death. A woman with three grown daughters faced a problem about passing down the family home. She wanted to leave a home to a child who has taken care of and is closest to her. However, she also wanted to be sure that, if something happened to this youngest daughter, the house would go to her two other daughters and not the close daughter’s adult children.

With proper planning, this can be done, as described in the article “Mom needs contingency plan to pass house title” from mySanAntonio.

One way is to rely on a last will and testament. The will would state that she leaves the house to the youngest daughter, under terms of a testamentary trust inside the will. The executor would probate the will and the trust would be established at death.  The trust terms would permit the daughter to use, enjoy, and live in the house during her lifetime, as the beneficiary of the testamentary trust.

The two older daughters would be named as the secondary beneficiaries of the trust. When the younger daughter dies, the trust distributes the house to the older daughters.  The trust would also provide what would happen to the property if the older daughters are deceased.

The plan will need to be prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney. This is not a terrible process, if the will is professionally written and properly executed, includes an executor and a trustee and clear instructions about her wishes.

However, there are other options, which can also be used in conjunction.  One is an enhanced life estate deed and another is a living trust. The enhanced life estate deed specifies that the woman is retaining a life estate, that is, the right to use, enjoy and occupy her home, for the rest of her life. The document specifies that when she dies, the home goes to her youngest daughter. The owner would also want to specify that she has the right to change her mind at any time.

This approach avoids probate. However, there is a downside. If the youngest daughter dies before the mother, then the mother will need to take legal action to cancel the deed and issue a new one to the two older daughters. If the daughter outlives her mother, once she inherits the house, there will be no way to have it transferred to the other sisters in the future (unless the daughter choses to do so) and presumably the property will go to the grandchildren after all.  Clients who try to construct their own estate plans often fall into this trap, they try to rely on beneficiary designations for everything and can’t address contingencies.

A living trust provides the detailed control allowed in a will, but the trust, which must be properly created and funded, avoids going to probate. The trust would let the mother live in the home, and when she dies, the title to the house stays in trust with her youngest daughter, who is able to live in the house. However, she never becomes the owner of the house. The trust would continue to own the house. The trust would specify that when the daughter dies, the house goes to the two older daughters. She may also use the enhanced life estate deed, and have it name the trust as beneficiary at her death to ensure it goes to the right beneficiaries.

There are other considerations which affect these decisions, such as taxes, who to put in charge of the process and long term care planning.  See here for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/removing-your-house-from-your-trust/

If you have a similar situation and want to learn more, call our office today.  We will walk you through these issues and help craft a plan that accomplishes your goals.

Reference: mySanAntonio (June 8, 2020) “Mom needs contingency plan to pass house title”

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