Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

Should a Trust Be Part of Your Estate Plan

Regular people have learned that they need to have an estate plan to protect themselves, while they are living and to distribute assets when they pass. Estate planning tools like a Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney are basic documents anyone over 18 needs to have. Trusts, once the province of the wealthy, are now being used by people in many different economic levels, reports the Cleveland Jewish News in the article “Five reasons to incorporate trust into estate plan.”  

Revocable Trust
Revocable Trusts are very flexible estate planning tools

Taxes. While it’s true that the exclusion for estates and prior taxable gifts is now $11.4 million per individual, most estates won’t be taxable at the federal level. However, don’t overlook state estate taxes. What if life insurance proceeds put your estate into a higher bracket? One way to keep the cap on your estate size, is with an irrevocable life insurance trust, also known as an ILIT. It will keep life insurance policy proceeds outside of a probatable estate and minimize the tax hit.

Asset Distribution. Your will controls who receives what assets, but not what happens to them after they are distributed. A trust can ensure that funds are used for specific purposes, such as higher education. It can also control how funds are distributed to an individual. If there are concerns about how an heir might mishandle an inheritance, perhaps because of an addiction or a lack of financial skills, a trust can be used for oversight into when funds are distributed and possibly under what circumstances. You can set benchmarks for trust distribution, like completing college or a rehabilitation program.

Privacy. Heirs are sometimes surprised when they, along with executors, start receiving solicitations after a loved one’s will is probated. That is because once a will goes through probate, the information is public record and available to anyone, including nosy neighbors, scammers or an estranged family member. A trust provides a layer of privacy. It can also do this while you are living. Certain information, like the ownership of a property, can be made less public, if the property is owned by a trust instead of an individual.

Making Estate Settlement More Efficient. Depending upon the jurisdiction, probate matters can take time. The court process does not always move quickly, and sometimes can be difficult to navigate. Probate can also become expensive. An executor or administrator of the estate is generally paid a percentage of the total value of the assets managed. But assets that are held in a trust do not go through the probate process and can be managed far more efficiently and quickly.

An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to determine what kind of trusts will be most appropriate and useful for your situation.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (September 16, 2019) “Five reasons to incorporate trust into estate plan”

How Does an Irrevocable Trust Work?

How does an irrevocable trust work
Irrevocable trusts are extremely difficult to change and amend.

There are pros and cons to using a revocable trust, which allows the grantor to make changes or even eliminate the trust entirely if they want to, and an irrevocable trust, which doesn’t allow any changes to be made from the creator of the trust once it’s set up, says kake.com in the article “How an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) Works.”  

Revocable trusts tend to be used more often, since they allow for flexibility as life brings changes to the person who created the trust. However, an irrevocable life insurance trust may be a good idea in certain situations. Your estate planning attorney will help you determine which one is best suited for you.

This is how an irrevocable trust works. A grantor sets up and funds the trust, while they are living. If there are any gifts or transfers made to the trust, they are permanent and cannot be changed. The trustee—not the grantor—manages the trust and handles how distributions are made to the beneficiaries.

Despite their inflexibilities, there are some good reasons to use an irrevocable trust.

With an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (or “ILIT”), the death benefits of life insurance may not be part of the gross estate, so they are not subject to state or federal estate taxes. They can be used to cover estate tax costs and other debts, as long as the estate is the purchaser and not the grantor. (Just bear in mind that the beneficiaries’ estate may be impacted by the inheritance.)

Minors may not be prepared to receive large assets. If there is an irrevocable trust, the death proceeds may be placed directly into a trust, so that beneficiaries must reach a certain age or other milestone, before they have access to the assets.

The IRS notes that life insurance payouts are typically not included among your gross assets, and in most instances, they do not have to be reported. However, there are exceptions. If interest has been earned, that is taxable. And if a life insurance policy was transferred to you by another person in exchange for a sum of money, only the sum of money is excluded from taxes.

An ILIT should shield a life insurance payout and beneficiaries from any legal action against the grantor. A key aspect of how an irrevocable trust works is that the ILIT is not owned by the beneficiary, nor is it owned by the grantor. This makes it tough for courts to label them as assets, and next to impossible for creditors to access the funds.

However, there are some quirks about ILITs that may make them unsuitable. For one thing, some of the tax benefits only kick in if you live three or more years after transferring your life insurance policy to the trust. Otherwise, the proceeds will be included in your estate for tax purposes.

Giving the trust money for the policy may make you subject to gift taxes. However, if you send beneficiaries a letter after each transfer notifying them of their right to claim the gifted funds for a certain period of time (e.g., 30 days), there won’t be gift taxes.

The biggest downside to an ILIT is that it is truly irrevocable, so the person who creates the trust must give up control of assets and can’t dissolve the trust.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to learn more about how an irrevocable trust works and if an ILIT is suitable for you. It may not be—but your estate planning attorney will know what tools are available to reach your goals and to protect your family.

Reference: kake.com (July 19, 2019) “How an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) Works”

Can an Estate Plan Become a Legacy Plan?

Creating a legacy might give you better odds of success.

The old saying that the first generation builds the business, the second generation struggles to maintain it and the third squanders everything, is sadly, statistically true. However, creating a legacy might give you better odds of success.

Bigstock-Extended-Family-Outside-Modern-13915094If you’ve been responsible and had an estate plan created, you are way ahead of most of your peers. You’ve planned for your family and your heirs with a will, powers of attorney, an advanced directive and likely created the appropriate trusts to hold life insurance policies to minimize estate taxes and protect the proceeds from creditors. You may have even done some succession planning, using family trusts and other planning vehicles. However, will this be enough for a lasting legacy?

Forbes’ recent article, “How To Turn Your Estate Plan Into A Legacy Plan,” says that perhaps you’ve heard that legacy planning is the solution to your problem.  However, you are worried about the expense. If you create a legacy plan, does it mean you’ve wasted time and money? No, it doesn’t. The documents you’ve already prepared for estate planning can most likely be used and incorporated into a more effective legacy plan. Let’s look at how to turn an estate plan into a legacy plan.

Form A Legacy Team. This effort takes a team. You need a team of professional advisors working together to move you towards success. A legacy team will typically begin with three main areas of expertise: legal (estate planning attorney), tax (accountant) and wealth/financial planning (wealth advisor). From there, the legacy team may expand, based on your needs and circumstances. Your team’s makeup will depend on you and your family’s specific needs and circumstances.

Get A Legacy Mindset. Think “process” versus “plan.” Traditional estate planning is often seen as complete, once estate planning documents have been prepared and signed. However, the reality is that after you’ve created legal entities and a structure for your estate and/or legacy, you’re just at the start of the process. The legacy plan is a recipe for your success and the framework through which your legacy is going to thrive and grow.

Educate Yourself on What You’ve Already Created. With your legacy team in place and with your legacy mindset, understand what your existing estate plan does and doesn’t do. Review your estate plan and determine if it distinguishes between legacy and non-legacy assets (which almost always should be handled differently on your death). You also need to plan for your life and how to build the legacy you ultimately want to leave behind through specific assets in your estate.

Put the Plan into Action. Creating the plan is the first step, the second is implementing the plan. That will ensure that your legacy will continue, ideally for generations to come.

Reference: Forbes (August 22, 2018)“How To Turn Your Estate Plan Into A Legacy Plan”

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