One misconception people have about life insurance is that naming beneficiaries is all you have to do to ensure the benefits of life insurance will be available for a surviving spouse, children, or other intended beneficiary. Life insurance is an important estate planning tool, but without certain protections in place, there's no guarantee that your spouse or children will receive the benefit of your purchase of life insurance. Consider the following examples:
Example 1: David identifies his wife Betsy as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Betsy does receive the death benefit from the insurance policy, but when Betsy remarries, she adds her new husband’s name to the bank account where she deposited the death benefit. In so doing, she leaves the death benefit from David’s life insurance to her new husband, rather than to her children as she and David discussed before his death and which is what she indicates in her will.
Example 2: Dawn, a single mother, names her 10-year-old son Mark as a beneficiary on her life insurance. She passes away when he is twelve. The court names a relative as a guardian or conservator for Mark until he is of age. By the time Mark reaches his 18th birthday, his inheritance has been partially spent down on court costs, attorney’s fees, and guardian or conservator fees. Additionally, it hasn’t kept pace with inflation because of the restrictive investment options available to guardians or conservators. Dawn hoped the life insurance proceeds would be there for Mark’s college, but the costs and lack of investment flexibility mean there may not be as much as Dawn hoped.
One Solution: Use a Trust as the Beneficiary on Your Life Insurance
When estate planning, a common method for passing assets is by placing them in a trust, with a spouse or children as beneficiaries. The same approach may also be used for life insurance policy proceeds. You can designate the trust as the life insurance policy's beneficiary, so the death benefits flow directly into the trust. Two popular ways to accomplish this:
Revocable Living Trust (RLT) Is the named beneficiary
This option works well for those who have a modest-sized estate or who have already set up a trust. Naming your RLT as a life insurance beneficiary simply adds those death benefits to what you already have in trust, payable only to beneficiaries of the trust itself. The benefit of this approach is that it instantly coordinates your life insurance proceeds with the rest of your estate plan.
Set up an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)
For an added layer of protection, an ILIT can both own the life insurance policy and be named as the beneficiary. As The Balance explains, this not only protects the death benefits from potential creditors and predators, but from estate taxes as well.
With the estate tax exemption at $5.49 million per person in 2017 and a potential repeal on the legislative agenda of President Trump and the Republican Congress, you may not need estate tax planning. But everyone who’s purchased life insurance needs to take an extra step to ensure your loved ones' financial future. To discuss your best options for structuring your life insurance estate plan, contact an estate attorney at Goosmann Law Firm. We’re here to help!