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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How to Claim and Use Life Insurance

Many people have life insurance, and they have it for a multitude of reasons.  These include funeral costs, liquidity in an estate, help paying off taxes and so on.  Whatever your reason for having it, I wanted to talk about how to make a claim on it, and separately, what to do with it once you have.  You can see more at Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

When making a claim, you’ll need a couple of things.  First and foremost, perhaps blindly obvious, is that your beneficiaries need to know you have it.  If an insurance company becomes aware of a death they might reach out to named beneficiaries, but that is a big assumption.  So, your life insurance beneficiaries or whoever may claim the insurance needs to know it exists.

Holding that aside, the person entitled to the money will start by contacting the insurance company.  The company will send or direct that person on where to download a form to claim the insurance.  Beneficiaries typically need to provide proof of who they are, a death certificate for the insured (which in most places is issued within a few weeks of death) and other information about how to pay the insurance.  For example, some companies ask if you want to turn it into an investment fund at their financial institution, others arrange how to cut the check and so on.

It is worth noting that your executor or trustee won’t have the right to do this unless the estate or the trust is the beneficiary of the life insurance.  All told, the process typically takes something like 30 days.

Now, what to do with the insurance proceeds varies based upon the purpose and need of the life insurance.  I’m also going to assume for now that the insurance isn’t being paid to a trust which is designed to hold assets long term such as a descendant’s trusts.  That might have different concerns.

So, with that said, here are some ideas on how to use the life insurance.

Funeral Costs. Use life insurance money to cover these costs to decrease your financial strain.  Most funeral companies actually have you purchase a small insurance policy in order to prepay a funeral.

Ongoing Expenses. This is especially true when one spouse dies, but living expenses do not stop. Your income is frequently reduced. In fact, after the death of a spouse, household income generally declines by about 40% due to changes in Social Security benefits, spouse’s retirement income and earnings. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can help provide the funds you need to help cover your mortgage, car payment, utilities, food, clothing and health care premiums.

Debts. You are generally not personally responsible for paying off the debts of the decedent. However, when an estate does not have enough funds to pay all the debts, any gifts that were supposed to be paid out to beneficiaries will most likely be reduced. Note that you may be responsible for certain types of debt, such as debt that is jointly owned or a loan that you have co-signed. Talk to an experienced estate attorney to understand the laws of your state, so that you know where you stand concerning all debts.  By way of example, you have very few responsibilities to pay a decedent’s debts in Texas.

Taxes.  As a tie-in to debts, some people use life insurance to give an influx of liquidity to pay estate taxes.  This often helps when an estate is large due to real estate or businesses or other illiquid assets.  The IRS of course wants the tax paid in cash, so life insurance gives you the cash to do so without liquidating other assets.

Create an Emergency Fund. Life insurance can help build a liquid emergency fund, which should cover three to six months of expenses.

Supplement Your Retirement. When one spouse passes, the survivor becomes much more economically vulnerable. To retire, a person typically needs 80% of their preretirement income to live comfortably.  So, insurance provides and extra supplement to cover that need.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 17, 2021) “What Is the Best Way for a Widow to Use Life Insurance Proceeds?”

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Common Wealth Transfer Mistakes

A legacy plan is a vital part of the financial planning process, ensuring the assets you have spent your entire life accumulating will transfer to the people and organizations you want, and that family members are prepared to inherit and execute your wishes.  However, four common errors can derail this wealth transfer, and send individuals, families, and their legacies, off track.  Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “4 Reasons Families Fail When Transferring Wealth” explains further.

Failure to create a plan. It’s hard for people to think about their own death and the process can be intimidating. This can make us delay our estate planning. If you don’t have the appropriate estate plan in place, your goals and wishes won’t be carried out. So, it is important to have a legacy plan in place to ensure proper wealth transfer. A legacy plan can evolve over time, but a plan should be grounded in what your or your family envisions today, but with the flexibility to be amended for changes in the future.  See this article for an idea of how wealth transfer works in an estate plan and how to get the process started.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-to-begin-the-estate-planning-process/

Poor communication and a lack of trust. Failing to communicate a plan early can create issues between generations, especially if it is different than adult children might expect or incorporates other people and organizations that come as a surprise to heirs. Bring adult children into the conversation to establish the communication early on. You can focus on the overall, high-level strategy. This includes reviewing timing, familial values and planning objectives. Open communication can mitigate negative feelings, such as distrust or confusion among family members, and make for a more successful transfer.

Poor preparation. The ability to get individual family members on board with defined roles can be difficult, but it can alleviate a lot of potential headaches and obstacles in the future.  This is critical for wealth transfer in roles such as executors, trustees and agents.

Overlooked essentials. Consider hiring a team of specialists, such as a financial adviser, tax professional and estate planning attorney, who can work in together to ensure the plan will meet its intended objectives and complete a wealth transfer in accordance with your wishes.

Whether creating a legacy plan today, or as part of the millions of households in the Great Wealth Transfer that will establish plans soon if they haven’t already, preparation and flexibility are essential elements to wealth transfer success.

Create a legacy plan that is right for you, have open communication with your family and review philosophies and values to make certain that everyone’s on the same page. As a result, your loved ones will have the ability to understand, respect and meaningfully execute the legacy plan’s objectives.

Reference: Kiplinger (Aug. 29, 2021) “4 Reasons Families Fail When Transferring Wealth”

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