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”

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Twelve Reasons to Update your Estate Plan

Clients know they are supposed to review their estate plans, but don’t know when to do it. Here are twelve times when it makes sense to review your plan.

Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their estate plan, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who don’t think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will or trust is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.  For the purposes of this article I’ll focus on property planning, meaning wills and trusts, but there are lots of other reasons to review and update your entire estate plan.

There are some wills and trusts that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. An obvious example is that some people shift from wills to trusts as their primary estate planning vehicle.  Families also undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will or trust. Here are twelve times in life when wills and trusts need to be reviewed:

Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will and trust should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.  In some cases, a new child may disrupt the estate plan if no provisions are made for them.

Divorce is a possibility. Don’t wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your estate plan, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.

Your divorce has been finalized. If you didn’t do it before, update your estate plan now. Don’t neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.

When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts for your beneficiary, so anything you leave your child will be protected in the case of their divorce.

Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your estate plan to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance for both themselves and for later beneficiaries.

Named executor, trustee or beneficiary dies. Your old will or trust may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary, executor or trustee dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. Many times, clients have one answer for what happens if a fiduciary or beneficiary die while it is hypothetical, but feel differently once it happens.  If a named executor or trustee dies and you don’t update the estate plan, then what happens if the second dies?

A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor or trustee, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.  This is one of the most obvious and common reasons for a younger client to update their estate plan.

New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.  It is also a great idea to subscribe to legal blogs (like this one) to stay up to date on changes.

An inheritance, windfall or downfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You’ll want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.

Can’t find your will and/or trust? If you can’t find the original documents, especially with the will, then you need new documents. Copies of wills may only be probated with extra steps, so it is far better to redo the documents which will also serve to update it legally.

Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.  It is also worth considering changes if you acquire real property in a new state which may require probating in two states.

Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.

In all cases, it is important to review your estate plan every few years, but looking for these reasons to update our estate plan will help.  Changing your estate plan is also not as involved as one might think.  Changes to wills often require a new will, changes to trusts take a variety of forms (see here https://www.galliganmanning.com/amending-a-trust-what-are-your-options/) but are often not very involved.

If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan recently or need assistance with a review or updates, please call our office today.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

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