Insight on Estate Planning - October/November 2019: Estate Planning Pitfall - You’ve waited too long to transfer ownership of your life insurance policy

Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C.
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Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C.Generally, the proceeds of your life insurance policy are included in your taxable estate. You can remove them by transferring ownership of the policy, but there’s a catch: If you wait too long, your intentions may be defeated. Essentially, if ownership of the policy is transferred within three years of your death, the proceeds revert to your taxable estate.

The proceeds of a life insurance policy are subject to federal estate tax if you retain any “incidents of ownership” in the policy. For example, you’re treated as having incidents of ownership if you have the right to designate or change the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the policy; borrow against the policy or pledge any cash reserve; surrender, convert, or cancel the policy; or select a payment option for the beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Typically, if you transfer complete ownership of, and responsibility for, the policy to an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT), the policy will ― subject to the three years mentioned above ― be excluded from your estate. You’ll need to designate a trustee to handle the administrative duties. It might be a family member, a friend or a professional. Should you need any additional life insurance protection, it would work best if it were acquired by the ILIT from the outset.

An ILIT can also help you accomplish other estate planning objectives. It might be used to keep assets out of the clutches of creditors or to protect against spending sprees of your relatives. Also keep in mind that, as long as the policy has a named beneficiary, which in the case of an ILIT would be the ILIT itself, the proceeds of the life insurance policy won’t have to pass through probate.

Obviously, the sooner you do this, the better. Don’t wait until it becomes a dire situation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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