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LIFE INSURANCE TRUST
This Article is designed to be of general interest. The specific techniques and information discussed may not apply to you. Before acting on any matter contained herein, you should consult with your personal adviser.
There are normally three reasons to have life insurance:
- To care for those whom you would ordinarily support, after your death;
- To pay death taxes; and
- To convert taxable assets to tax free assets.
TAXATION OF LIFE INSURANCE PROCEEDS
Life insurance proceeds are usually subject to death taxes, depending on the form of
ownership. Therefore, proper ownership of a life insurance policy is very important.
If you own insurance (or even retain the right to change the beneficiary of the policy) on
your own life, the death proceeds are part of your taxable estate. To put it simply, if you
are single, and have a $600,000 policy, and $100,000 of other assets, at your death, your
estate will owe $37,000 in taxes. Tax is imposed on a total of $700,000; $600,000 is tax
free; the balance is taxed at 37%.
Tax Free Insurance: If the insured does not owns the policy, there are no taxes at his
Support of Spouse
If a married couple has insurance to support the widow at the untimely death of the high
wage earner husband, there is no tax at his death; anything going to a surviving spouse is
Support of Children
If the primary intent is to care for children rather than the spouse, tax considerations
become more important. Since Life Insurance is usually subject to death taxes, tax
protection is vital, or the insurance will cause additional taxation.
Payment of Death Taxes
A single person owns one asset: a home worth $750,000. He wants to leave it to his
children. He figures that with an estate of $750,000, he needs a policy for $55,000 to pay
the death taxes. However, his death taxes are based on his total assets, which usually
includes insurance. Because the insurance is subject to death taxes, on his $805,000
estate death taxes are $76,000. His kids come up short.
Imposition of death tax on insurance causes a vicious circle; buying more insurance
causes an increase in both the taxable estate and the taxes. He needs almost $100,000
of insurance to pay tax on the house and the insurance.
Proper Ownership Techniques
There are several methods of avoiding taxation:
Young beneficiaries pose a problem. A young child cannot (or should not) be outright
beneficiary of a life insurance policy.
- The beneficiary may own the policy.
- A trusted friend may own the policy.
- A Life Insurance Trust may be used.
1 - Adult Beneficiaries as Owners: Of course, if your children are mature and stable,
they may be the owners personally, paying premiums with money you give them.
However, a Trust could provide them with asset protection. See Dynasty Trust.
2 - Give "Uncle Bob" the policy, and money every year with which Bob pays the
premiums. Your child is beneficiary. Bob is subject to gift tax on the proceeds, when
you die. Also, there are risks:
3 - A better method is a Life Insurance Trust.
- Uncle Bob cashes in the policy, or he pockets the money you give him to pay the
premiums, and the policy lapses. Actually, this may be immoral of Uncle Bob, but not
illegal - it is his policy!
- Uncle Bob changes the beneficiary. It's his policy, he can do what he wants.
- Uncle Bob gets sued by his own creditor who takes away the policy. Since the policy
belongs to Bob, it is subject to attachment by his creditors.
- Uncle Bob gets divorced, and his wife gets half the policy.
- Uncle Bob dies, his wife inherits the policy and she changes the beneficiary.
When a Life Insurance Trust is formed, you name a person to manage it. Normally, that
will not be you or your spouse.
If you have an existing life insurance policy, you can put that into the Trust, or you can
have the Trust buy a new policy. The annual premiums are paid from funds which you
A Life Insurance Trust is irrevocable. If you form a Trust for the benefit of all of your
children equally, and later would like to 'disinherit' one child, you cannot change the Trust.
All you can do is to stop making gifts to the Trust, leaving it with an insurance policy
which lapses due to nonpayment of premiums.
Of course, the major reason to have a Life Insurance Trust is to avoid the risk of ownership
by another person, and to ensure that the beneficiaries do not receive substantial assets
until they are mature enough to handle them.
Crummey Withdrawal Rights are required to make the gift eligible for the annual $10,000 tax free rule. See Irrevocable Trusts for information about Crummey Powers.
LIFE INSURANCE PURCHASE: 3 YEAR RULE
If the Trust purchases new life insurance, the Trustee should sign as applicant for the life insurance. The decision on whether to purchase life insurance is strictly up to the Trustee. The founder of the Trust is not the applicant for the insurance, although as the insured he is required to sign a consent to the Trust's purchase of the insurance.
[If an existing policy is to be transferred into the Trust, the 3 year rule will apply: if the founder dies within 3 years of the date of the transfer, the proceeds are taxable in his estate. If a new policy is acquired by the Trust, the 3 year rule does NOT apply.]
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