How to Reduce or Eliminate Your Estate Tax Cost

1. What does a life insurance trust do?
2. What are estate taxes?
3. Who has to pay estate taxes?
4. What makes up my net estate?
5. How does an insurance trust reduce estate taxes?
6. What if my estate is larger than this?
7. How does an irrevocable insurance trust work?
8. Can I be my own trustee?
9. Why not just name someone else as owner of my insurance policy?
10. How does an insurance trust give me control?
11. Are there other benefits to naming the trust as beneficiary of an insurance policy?
12. Who can be beneficiaries of the trust?
13. Where does the trustee get the money to purchase a new insurance policy?
14. Are there any restrictions on transferring my existing policies to an insurance trust?
15. Can I make any changes to the trust?
16. When should I set up an insurance trust?
17. Should I seek professional assistance?
18. Benefits of Life Insurance Trust
s

1. What does a life insurance trust do?
An irrevocable life insurance trust lets you reduce or even eliminate estate taxes so more of your estate can go to your loved ones. It also gives you more control over your insurance policies and the proceeds that are paid from them.
(Back to Top)

2. What are estate taxes?
Estate taxes are different from, and in addition to, probate expenses and final income taxes (which must be paid on income you receive in the year you die). Some states also have their own death/inheritance taxes. Federal estate taxes are expensive – in 2003 they start at 41% and quickly increase to 49%. They must be paid in cash, usually within nine months after you die. Since few estates have this kind of cash, assets often have to be liquidated. But estate taxes can be substantially reduced or even eliminated – if you plan ahead.
(Back to Top)

3. Who has to pay estate taxes?
Your estate will have to pay estate taxes if its net value when you die is more than the "exempt" amount set by Congress at that time. Here is the current schedule:

Year of Death.........Estate Tax “Exemption”
2006, 2007 & 2008.....................$2 million
2009.......................................$3.5 million
2010...................................N/A (repealed)
2011.........................................$1 million

In addition, family-owned businesses and farms that qualify can take a special deduction of up to $675,000, making a total of up to $1.3 million exempt from estate taxes. (This deduction will be eliminated in 2004.)
(Back to Top)

4. What makes up my net estate?
To determine your current net estate, add your assets then subtract your debts. Many people are surprised that insurance policies for which they have any "incidents of ownership" are included in their taxable estates. This includes policies you can borrow against, assign or cancel, or for which you can revoke an assignment, or can name or change the beneficiary.

You can see how life insurance can increase the size of your estate--and the amount of estate taxes that must be paid.
(Back to Top)

5. How does an insurance trust reduce estate taxes?

The insurance trust owns your insurance policies for you. Since you don't personally own the insurance, it will not be included in your estate -- so your estate taxes are reduced.

Let's say you are married, with a combined net estate of $2.5 million, $500,000 of which is life insurance. With a tax planning provision in a revocable living trust or will, you can protect up to $2 million in 2003 from estate taxes. But your estate would have to pay $210,000 in estate taxes on the additional $500,000. With an insurance trust, however, the $500,000 in insurance would not be included in your taxable estate. That would save your family $210,000 in estate taxes.
(Back to Top)

6. What if my estate is larger than this?

If your estate will still have to pay estate taxes after you transfer your insurance to a trust, you can reduce your estate tax costs by having the trust buy additional life insurance. Here are three very good reasons to do this:

1. If the trust buys the insurance, it will not be included in your estate. The death proceeds, which are not subject to probate or income taxes, will flow to your beneficiary free from estate taxes.

2. Insurance proceeds are available immediately after you die, so your assets will not have to be liquidated to pay estate taxes.

3. Life insurance can be an inexpensive way to pay estate taxes and other expenses. You can leave more to your loved ones.
(Back to Top)

7. How does an irrevocable insurance trust work?

An insurance trust has three components. The grantor is the person creating the trust – that's you. The trustee you select manages the trust. And the trust beneficiaries you name will receive the trust assets after you die.

The trustee purchases an insurance policy with you as the insured and the trust as owner and (usually) beneficiary. When the insurance benefit is paid after your death, the trustee will collect the funds, make them available to pay estate taxes and/or other expenses (including debts, legal fees, probate costs, and income taxes that may be due on IRAs and other retirement benefits), and then distribute them to the trust beneficiaries as you have instructed.
(Back to Top)

8. Can I be my own trustee?
Not if you want the tax advantages we've explained. Some people name their adult children as trustee(s), but often their children don’t have enough time or experience. Many people choose a corporate trustee (bank or trust company) because they are experienced with these trusts. A corporate trustee will make sure the trust is properly administered and the insurance premiums promptly paid.
(Back to Top)

9. Why not just name someone else as owner of my insurance policy?
If someone else, such as your spouse or adult child, owns a policy on your life and dies first, the cash/termination value will be in his/her taxable estate. That doesn't help much.

But, more importantly, if someone else owns the policy, you lose control. This person could change the beneficiary, take the cash value, or even cancel the policy, leaving you with no insurance. You may trust this person now, but problems could arise later on. An insurance trust is safer – it lets you reduce estate taxes and keep control.
(Back to Top)

10. How does an insurance trust give me control?

With an insurance trust, your trust owns the policy. The trustee you select must follow the instructions you put in your trust. And, with your insurance trust as beneficiary of the policies, you will have more control over the proceeds.

For example, you could tell the trustee to use the proceeds to purchase assets from your estate or revocable living trust, providing cash to pay expenses. You can provide your spouse with lifetime income and keep the insurance proceeds out of both of your estates. You could also keep the money in the trust and have the trustee make periodic distributions to the beneficiaries of the trust.

By contrast, if your spouse or children are beneficiaries of the policy, they will receive all of the money right away – and you will have no control over how the money is spent. If your spouse is beneficiary and you die first, all of the proceeds will be in your spouse's taxable estate – which could create a tax problem. And your spouse (not you) will decide who will inherit any remaining money after he or she dies.
(Back to Top)

11. Are there other benefits to naming the trust as beneficiary of an insurance policy?

Yes. If you name an individual as beneficiary of a policy and that person is incapacitated when you die, the court will probably take control of the money. Most insurance companies will not knowingly pay to an incompetent person, and will usually insist on court supervision.
But if your trust is the beneficiary of the insurance policy, the trustee can use the insurance proceeds to provide for this person without court interference.
(Back to Top)

12. Who can be beneficiaries of the trust?

You can name any person or organization you wish, but most people name their children and/or spouse.
(Back to Top)

13. Where does the trustee get the money to purchase a new insurance policy?
From you, but in a special way. If you transfer money directly to the trustee, there could be a gift tax. But you can make annual tax-free gifts of up to $11,000 ($22,000 if your spouse joins you) to each beneficiary of your trust. (This amount may be adjusted each year for inflation.) If you give more than this, the excess is applied to your federal gift/estate tax exemption and could reduce it over time.

Instead of making a gift directly to a beneficiary, you give it to the trustee. The trustee then notifies each one that a gift has been received on his/her behalf and, unless he/she elects to receive the gift now, the trustee will invest the funds – by paying the premium on the insurance policy. Of course, the beneficiaries must understand not to take the gift now.
(Back to Top)

14. Are there any restrictions on transferring my existing policies to an insurance trust?

Yes. If you die within three years of the date of the transfer it will be considered invalid by the IRS and the insurance will be included in your taxable estate. There may also be a gift tax. Be sure to discuss this with your attorney.
(Back to Top)

15. Can I make any changes to the trust?
An insurance trust is irrevocable, so you can't make changes after it has been set up. Read your trust document carefully and be sure it's exactly what you want before you sign.
(Back to Top)

16. When should I set up an insurance trust?

You can set up one any time, but because the trust is irrevocable, many people wait until they are in their 50s or 60s. By then, family relationships have usually settled—and you know whom you want to name as a beneficiary.

Just don't wait too long—you could become uninsurable. And remember, if you transfer existing policies to the trust, you must live three years after the transfer for it to be valid.
(Back to Top)

17. Should I seek professional assistance?

Yes. If you think an irrevocable insurance trust would be of value to you and your family, talk with an insurance professional, estate planning attorney, corporate trustee, or CPA who has experience with these trusts.
(Back to Top)

18. Benefits of Life Insurance Trusts
• Provides immediate cash to pay estate taxes and other expenses after death.
• Reduces estate taxes by removing insurance from your estate.
• Inexpensive way to pay estate taxes.
• Proceeds avoid probate and are free from income and estate taxes.
• Gives you maximum control over insurance policy and how proceeds are used.
• Can provide income to spouse without insurance proceeds being included in spouse's estate.
• Prevents court from controlling insurance proceeds if beneficiary is incapacitated.
(Back to Top)

NOTE: This information is designed to provide a general overview with regard to the subject matter covered and is not state-specific. The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting or any other advice which purports to be specific to your situation. The contents of this website are believed to be completely reliable. Nevertheless, some material may be affected by changes in the laws or interpretations of such changes since the material was entered on the website. If legal advice or other expert guidance is required, the services of a competent professional in the field of law, accounting, insurance or investments should be sought.

Price & Farrington, PLLC - Attorneys and Counselors at Law
Parkwood Office Center - 2370 130th Ave. N.E., Suite 103 - Bellevue, WA 98005
Phone: 425.451.3583.. Fax: 425.522.4818 ..E-mail: admin@pricefarrington.com

About Us l What We Provide l Contact Us l Articles l Forms l F.A.Q. l Links l "FastFacts" l Sitemap l Home