Understanding Life Insurance Trusts: Can I be my own trustee?

This is part 2 of the blog series discussing life insurance trusts and estate taxes

6. What if my estate is larger than this?

 I) If the trust buys the insurance, it will not be included in your estate. So the proceeds, which are not subject to probate or income taxes, will also be free from estate taxes.

II) Insurance proceeds are available right after you die. So your assets will not have to be liquidated to pay estate taxes.

III) Life insurance can be an inexpensive way to pay estate taxes and other expenses. So you can leave more to your loved ones.

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.

8. Can I be my own trustee?

Not if you want the tax advantages we’ve explained. Some people name their spouse and/or adult children as trustee(s), but often they 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.

9. Why not just name someone else as owner of my insurance policy?

If someone else, like 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 you could have problems later on. The policy could even be garnished to help satisfy the other person’s creditors. An insurance trust is safer – it lets you reduce estate taxes and keep control.

For additional questions on life insurance trusts and estate taxes, please contact our Estate Planning Lawyer in Woodland Hills, Ca today.

Understanding Life Insurance Trusts: How to Reduce or Eliminate Your Estate Tax Cost

This blog series will go through questions that are often asked by our clients when discussing life insurance trusts and estate taxes.

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 money that is paid from them.

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 any income you receive in the year you die). Some states also have their own death/inheritance taxes.
Federal estate taxes are expensive – the rate is 46% in 2006, 45% in 2007 and 2008 – and 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.

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 and thereafter………..$1 million

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 in 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.

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 or have any “incidents of ownership,” 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 $5 million, $1 million of which is life insurance. With a tax planning provision in a revocable living trust or will, you can protect up to $4 million in 2006-2008 from estate taxes. But if you die in 2006, your estate would have to pay $460,000 in estate taxes on the additional $1 million ($450,000 in 2007 and 2008). With an insurance trust, the $1 million in insurance would not be in your estate. That would save your family at least $450,000 in estate taxes.

For additional questions on life insurance trusts and estate taxes, please contact our Estate Planning Attorney in Woodland Hills, Ca today.

Tax-Free Gifts and the Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) : Reducing the Estate Tax

Tax-Free Gifts

This is easy and it doesn’t cost anything. Each year, you can give up to $12,000 ($24,000 if married) to as many people as you wish. So if you give $12,000 to each of your two children and five grandchildren, you will reduce your estate by $84,000 (7 x $12,000) a year – $168,000 if your spouse joins you. (This amount is now tied to inflation and may increase every few years.)

If you give more than this, the excess will be considered a taxable gift and will be applied to your $1 million gift tax exemption. Charitable gifts are unlimited. So are gifts for tuition and medical expenses if you give directly to the institution.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

An easy way to remove life insurance from your estate is to make an ILIT the owner of the policies. As long as you live three years after the transfer of an existing policy, the death benefits will not be included in your estate.

Usually the ILIT is also beneficiary of the policy, giving you the option of keeping the proceeds in the trust for years, with periodic distributions to your spouse, children and grandchildren. Proceeds kept in the trust are protected from irresponsible spending and creditors, even ex-spouses.

For more information on-free gifts, irrevocable life insurance trusts and reducing your estate tax, please contact our experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Woodland Hills.

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Removing Assets from your Estate to Reduce the Estate Tax

Removing assets from your estate is a great way to reduce estate taxes before you die.

So, spend some and enjoy it!

Also, you probably know whom you want to have your assets after you die. If you can afford it, why not give them some assets now and save estate taxes? It can be very satisfying to see the results of your gifts– something you can’t do if you keep everything until you die. Appreciating assets are usually best to give, because the asset and future appreciation will be out of your estate.

Assets you give away keep your cost basis (what you paid), so the recipients may have to pay capital gains tax when they sell. But the top capital gains rate is only 15% (assets held at least 12 months). That’s a lot less than estate taxes (45-46%) if you keep the assets until you die.

Some of the most commonly-used strategies to remove assets from estates are explained below. Note that these are all irrevocable, so you can’t change your mind later.

  1. Tax-Free Gifts
  2. Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)
  3. Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT)
  4. Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) and Grantor Retained Unitrust (GRUT)
  5. Family Limited Partnership (FLP) and Limited Liability Company (LLC)
  6. Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT)
  7. Charitable Lead Trust (CLT)
  8. Buying Life Insurance

Detailed explanations of each of these strategies for removing assets from your estate will be explained in the upcoming blog entries.  For questions on reducing your estate tax, please contact our experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Woodland Hills.

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