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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Proposed IRA Rules and Their Effect on Stretch IRAs.

New IRA rules make retirement funds better for retirees, but not necessarily for their beneficiaries.

The SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act proposes a number of changes to IRA rules and other retirement rules.  The Act passed in the House of Representatives by a 417-3 vote and is expected to be passed in some form by the Senate. Some of the changes appear to be common sense, like broadening access to IRAs and 401(k)s, changing the required minimum distribution (RMD) age from 70½ to 72 and providing different investment options for these programs. However, with these changes come potential limitations with Stretch IRAs.

Forbes asks in its recent article “Are Concerns Over Stretch IRAs And The SECURE Act Justified?” An IRA shelters investments from tax which leaves investors with more money for the same investment performance because usually no tax is usually paid as it grows. Your distributions can also be tax-free if you use a Roth IRA. That’s a good thing if you have an option between paying taxes on your investment income and not paying taxes on it. The SECURE act isn’t changing this fundamental process, but the issue is when you still have an IRA balance at death.

A Stretch IRA can be a great estate planning tool. Here’s how it works: you give the IRA to a young beneficiary in your family. The tax shield of the IRA is then “stretched,” for what can be decades, based on the principle that an IRA is used over the life expectancy of the beneficiary. This is important because the longer the IRA lasts, the more investment gains and income can be protected from taxes which allows the investment to grow tremendously.

Even better, current estate planning techniques allow an investor to leave an IRA to a trust and still get “stretch” treatment.  For more information, see our website.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/life-stages/planning-for-retirement/   Current Treasury Rules permit trusts to receive “stretch” treatment if the beneficiary of the trust is readily identifiable. This enables investors to leave their retirement assets to trusts for their individual beneficiaries and receive the investment advantage of the “stretch” as well as the benefit of the trust, such as tax planning and divorce or creditor protection for the beneficiaries.  One such trust is called a “conduit trust” where only RMD’s are paid out to the identifiable beneficiary based upon his or her life expectancy.

However, the SECURE Act could change that.  The proposed IRA rules and other retirement rules instead require funds to be distributed over a 10 year period instead of the beneficiary’s lifetime. That’s a big change for estate planning and the value of assets passed to the next generation.

There are some exceptions to the 10 year time period, including retirement left to a surviving spouse, minor children and some persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses.  However, aside from the spouse, these beneficiary groups are limited and will be most harmed by this change.  For example, a disabled beneficiary would likely not receive the retirement funds directly because receiving the retirement funds would affect their government benefits.  Instead, the retirement will pay to a special kind of trust, called a Supplemental Needs Trust, that will receive the retirement funds and accumulate them for the beneficiary’s use.  However, that form of a trust will presumably not qualify for the 10 year exception because remainder beneficiaries (those who survive the disabled beneficiary) will be brought into the analysis and likely won’t be minors or disabled beneficiaries to make the trust eligible for a 10 year exception.  For someone in that case, a 10 year payout will accelerate tax and greatly reduce the legacy left to the beneficiary with a disability, and he or she is the one who needs it most.

For a person who uses their own IRA in retirement and uses it up or passes it to their spouse as an inheritance—the  proposed IRA rules and retirement rules under the SECURE Act change almost nothing. For those looking to use their own IRA in retirement, IRAs are slightly improved due to the new ability to continue to contribute after age 70½ and other small improvements. Therefore, most typical IRA holders will be unaffected or benefit to some degree during their lifetimes.  However, for investors with large investment funds to pass to beneficiaries, the proposed IRA rules may greatly reduce the legacy left to their loved ones.

Reference: Forbes (July 16, 2019) “Are Concerns Over Stretch IRAs And The SECURE Act Justified?”

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