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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:
  1. To care for those whom you would ordinarily support, after your death;
  2. To pay death taxes; and
  3. To convert taxable assets to tax free assets.


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 death.

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 tax free.

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:

  1. The beneficiary may own the policy.
  2. A trusted friend may own the policy.
  3. A Life Insurance Trust may be used.
Young beneficiaries pose a problem. A young child cannot (or should not) be outright beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

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.

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 contribute.

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 Powers
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.


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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