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.

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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