What Is Purpose of an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?
Revocable trust on a wooden desk.

What Is Purpose of an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, or “ILITs” are life insurance policies owned by irrevocable trusts used to manage taxes on estates. There are complexities to using an ILIT, but the benefits for some people could be big, according to the article “What Advisors Should Know About Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts” from U.S. News & World Report.

What is the goal of an ILIT? The goal of an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust is to own a life insurance policy, so the proceeds of the policy are left to heirs, who avoid estate tax. It’s a type of living trust but one that cannot be dissolved or revoked, unless the trust does not pay premiums and the insurance policy owned by the trust lapses.

The federal estate tax exemption is currently $11.58 million for individuals, and $23.16 for married couples. Most people don’t need to worry about paying federal estate taxes now, but this historically high level will not be around forever. The current law ends in 2025, cutting the exemption by half. If Congress needs to raise revenue before then, change could come sooner.

Who needs an ILIT?

The main advantage of an ILIT is providing immediate cash, tax free, to beneficiaries. The value of the ILIT is out of the estate and not subject to taxable estate calculations. The life insurance policy ownership is transferred from the insured to the trust. The insured does not own or control the insurance policy, but this is a small price to pay for the benefits enjoyed by heirs.

The grantor is the insured person, and the policy is purchased with the ILIT as the owner and the beneficiary. The insured cannot be the trustee of the trust. In most cases, the trustee is a family member, and the insurance premiums are paid through annual gifting from the insured to the trust. These are the details that should be explained by an estate planning attorney to maintain the trust’s legitimacy.

If all goes as planned, when the insured dies, the ILIT distributes the life insurance proceeds tax-free to beneficiaries.

How does an ILIT work?

Let’s say that you have assets worth $15 million. You buy a life insurance policy that will pay $5 million to your children. When you die, your taxable estate would be $20 million, which in 2020 would incur about $3.3 million in federal estate taxes. However, if you used an ILIT and the ILIT owned the $5 million policy instead of you, your taxable estate would be $15 million. Your federal estate tax in 2020 would be about $1.3 million. The estate would save $2 million simply by having the ILIT own the $5 million life insurance policy.

What if the estate tax exemption goes down before you die?

If the estate tax exemption goes down and you have already funded the ILIT, it remains safe from estate taxes. Here is another reason to consider an ILIT—as long as the funds remain in the trust, they are safe from beneficiary’s creditors.

Are there any downsides to an ILIT?

ILITs are not do-it-yourself trusts. They are complex and need to be structured so that the annual contributions used to pay the insurance premiums qualify for the $15,000 gift tax exclusion. To do this, an estate planning attorney will often include a “Crummy” power, which allows the insured to pay the trust for the premium, without reducing their lifetime gift tax exemption amount. However, it also means that beneficiaries need to be well-educated about the ILIT, so they don’t make any errors that undo the trust.

When a contribution is made, Crummey letters are sent to the beneficiaries, letting them know that a gift was made to the trust and they have the right to withdraw the money. However, if they withdraw the money, the insurance policy could collapse.

You’ll need to be committed to keeping this policy for the long run. You’ll need to be able to fund it appropriately.

There is also a three year look back for existing insurance policies that are moved into the ILIT, so the grantor must be alive for three years after the policy is given to the ILIT for it to remain outside of the estate. This does not apply when a new policy is established in the ILIT and does not apply if the ILIT buys the policy from the grantor.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Oct. 29, 2020) “What Advisors Should Know About Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts”

Stretch Out IRA Distributions, Even Without ‘Stretch’ IRA

It’s sad but true: the SECURE Act took away the long lifetime stretch that so many IRA heirs enjoyed. It was a great efficiency tool for family wealth transfer, but there are ways to fill the gap. A recent article “3 Strategies That Dry Your Stretch IRA Tears” from InsuranceNewsNet.com explains what to do now that IRAs need to be cashed out within ten years of the original owner’s death.

There are a number of tax-efficient planning opportunities, falling into three basic categories: wealth replacement with life insurance, Roth planning and charitable opportunities.

The life insurance policy is straightforward: parents buy life insurance to close the gap between what the IRA could have been, if it had been stretched out over the heir’s lifetime. For parents who are in a lower tax bracket than their children, it might make sense for parents to take distributions out of their IRA and buy insurance with after-tax dollars. This method may also present an opportunity for parents to purchase life insurance with long-term care protection, if they have not already done so.

The “Slow Roth” strategy is for families who might not think they can benefit from a Roth, but they can—just not all at once. By converting an IRA to a Roth IRA over time, only in amounts that keep parents in the same tax bracket, and paying taxes on the conversion slowly and over time, the Roth IRA can be built up so when it is inherited, even though it has to be taken out within ten years after your death, it is income tax free.

The third strategy is for families already planning on making charitable gifts. A Qualified Charitable Distribution, or QDC, lets the owner make distributions directly from their IRA to qualified charities, up to $100,000 annually. Remember that the distribution must go directly to the charity and it cannot be used for a donation to a donor-advised fund or private foundation. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help determine if your charity of choice qualifies.

Finally, you can name a Charitable Remainder Trust as an IRA Beneficiary. This is not a do-it-yourself project and mistakes can be costly. By naming a CRT as a beneficiary of your IRA, you avoid taxes on the entire lump sum when the trust liquidates the IRA. At the same time, the income beneficiary of the trust can receive income from the CRT over their lifetime or a term that you determine. It can’t be more than twenty years from the date of death, but twenty years is a long time. The payments from the trust will be treated as taxable income, so be sure that this will work for the recipient. If you accidentally push them into a higher tax bracket, they may not be quite as grateful as you wanted.

Reference: InsuranceNewsNet.com (Oct. 28, 2020) “3 Strategies That Dry Your Stretch IRA Tears”

How Do Joint Accounts and Beneficiary Designations Work in Estate Planning?

Most people think a will is the most important tool in the estate planning toolbox, but in many instances, it is not even used. Assets in the will go through probate, and wills control assets in your name only. If you don’t have a will, your state laws will provide one under its law of Intestate Succession. Instead of making a will, some people just name their spouses or children on joint accounts, says the article “Protecting Your Assets: Joint Accounts and Beneficiary Designations” from The Street. however, that can lead to big problems.

Let’s look at a typical family. They own a home, an IRA, life insurance and some bank and investment accounts. They have wills that leave everything to each other, and equally to their children upon their deaths. If a child predeceases them, they want the child’s share to go to the child’s children (their grandchildren). This is called per stirpes, meaning it goes to the next generation. The husband and wife have also listed each other as joint owners and beneficiaries and then listed their children as contingent beneficiaries on all financial accounts.

When the husband dies, all his assets go to his wife. When she dies, she had named her living children as beneficiaries. If she signed a quit claim deed putting the children’s names on the house before she died, the will and probate may be bypassed altogether.

Sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it? Except like most things that sound too good to be true, this one is not a great plan. Here’s what can and very often does go wrong.

Let’s say a daughter inherits a bank account and is sued, files for bankruptcy or divorces. Her entire inheritance is vulnerable, with no protection at all.

What if you say in your will that you want everything to go equally to all three children when you die, but you only put one son as a beneficiary on your accounts? When you die, only one son inherits everything. The will does not supersede the beneficiary designation. If the son wants to keep all your assets, he can, no matter what he may have promised you and his siblings.

If the wife dies first and the husband remarries, he may want to leave everything to his new wife. He’s hoping that when she dies, she’ll distribute the assets from his first marriage to his children. He even has a will and changes the beneficiary designations on his investment accounts to make sure that happens. However, when he dies, she owns the accounts and can name whoever she wants to inherit those accounts. She has the legal right to cut out anyone she wants. The husband may have avoided probate, but his children are left with no inheritance.

We all like to believe that our spouses and children will do the right thing upon our death, but the only way to ensure that this will happen is to have an estate plan created using trusts and other planning strategies. Avoiding probate may be a popular theme but making sure your assets go where you want to them to is far more important than avoiding probate. Meet with an estate planning attorney to ensure that your family is protected, the right way.

Reference: The Street (Oct. 30, 2020) “Protecting Your Assets: Joint Accounts and Beneficiary Designations”

The Biggest Mistake in Trusts: Funding

Failing to put assets into trusts creates headaches for heirs and probate hassles, says the article “Once You Create a Living Trust, Don’t Forget to Fund It” from Kiplinger. It’s the last step of creating an estate plan that often gets forgotten, much to the dismay of heirs and estate planning attorneys.

Are people so relieved when their estate plan is finished, that they forget to cross the last “t” and dot the last “i”? Could be! Retitling accounts is not something we do on a regular basis, and it does take time to get done. However, without this last step, the entire estate plan can be doomed.

Here are the steps that need to be competed:

Check the deeds on all real estate property. If the intention of your estate plan is to place your primary residence, vacation home, timeshare or rental properties into the trust, all deeds need to be updated. The property is being moved from your ownership to the ownership of the trust, and the title must reflect that. If at some point you refinanced a home, the lender may have asked you to remove the name of the trust for purposes of financing the loan. In that case, you need to change the deed back into the name of the trust. If your estate planning attorney wasn’t part of that transaction, they won’t know about this extra step. Check all deeds to be certain.

Review financial statements. Gather bank statements, brokerage statements and any financial accounts. Confirm that any of the accounts you want to be owned by the trust are titled correctly. You may need to contact the institutions to make sure that the titles on the statements are correct. If there is no reference to the trust at all, then the account has not been recorded correctly and changes need to be made.

It’s also a good idea to review any accounts with named beneficiaries. Talk with your estate planning attorney about whether these accounts should be retitled. The rules regarding beneficiaries for annuities changed a few years ago, so naming the trust as a beneficiary might not work for your estate plan or your tax planning goals as it did in the past.

IRAs and other retirement accounts. These accounts need to be treated on an individual basis when deciding if they should have a trust listed as a primary or contingent beneficiary. Listing a trust as a beneficiary can, in some cases, accelerate income tax due on the account. If the trust is listed as the beneficiary, the ability to distribute assets to trust beneficiaries may be impacted.

The main reason to list a trust as a beneficiary to an IRA or retirement plan is to protect the asset from creditors, financially reckless heirs, or a beneficiary with special needs. An estate planning attorney will know the correct way to handle this.

Making sure that your assets are in the trust takes a little time, but it is up to the owner of the trust to take care of this final detail. The estate planning attorney may provide you with written directions, but unless you make specific arrangements with the office, they will expect you to take care of this. The assets don’t move themselves – you’ll need to make it happen.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 26, 2020) “Once You Create a Living Trust, Don’t Forget to Fund It”

Special Needs Plans Need Regular Reviews to Protect Loved Ones
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Special Needs Plans Need Regular Reviews to Protect Loved Ones

Special needs planning is far more detailed than estate planning, although both require regular reviews and updates to be effective. For creating a wholly new plan or reviewing an older plan, one way to start is by writing a biography of a loved one with special needs, recommends the article “Special needs plan should be carefully considered” from The News-Enterprise.

Write down the person’s name, birth date and their age at the time of writing. Include information about favorite activities, closest friends and favorite places. Consider all of the things they like and dislike. Make detailed notes about relationships with family members, including any household pets. Think of it as creating a guide to your loved one for someone who has never met them. This guide will be useful in mapping out a plan that will best suit their needs.

Follow this by writing down what you envision for their future, in three distinct scenarios. A good future, where you are able to care for them, a not-so-great future where they are alive and well, but you are not present in their life and a bad future. You should be as specific as possible. This exercise will provide you with a clear sense of what pitfalls may occur, so you and your estate planning attorney can plan better.

Your plan needs to consider who will become the person’s guardian. You’ll need to list more than one person and put their names in order of preference. Consider the possibility that the first person may not wish to or be able to serve as a guardian and have second and third guardians. Talk to each person to be sure they are willing and able to take on this responsibility.

Next, consider living arrangements. Will your loved one be able to live independently, with regular check ins? Could they live in an accessory apartment with a guardian close at hand? Or would they need to live in a group care facility with an on-site social worker?

A special needs plan usually includes a Special Needs Trust (SNT), with comprehensive details for the trustee. Just as you need multiple guardians, you should also name several trustees. The guardian is responsible for a person and the trustee is responsible for the property.

The question is raised whether a family member or a professional should be the trustee. Having a family member manage the finances is not always the best idea. A professional fiduciary will be able to manage the funds without the emotional ties that could cloud their ability to make good decisions. This is especially important, if the beneficiary has a drug dependency problem, does not have a strong family network or if the estate is large.

Consideration should also be given to having the trustee check in on the beneficiary on a regular basis to ensure that the beneficiary’s needs are being met. The trustee should have permission to make decisions about the use of the trust funds in special circumstances. The trustee will need to be someone who is skilled with managing money and is well-organized and responsible.

Special needs planning is complex, but careful planning will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your loved one will be cared for by people you choose and trust.

Reference: The News Enterprise (Oct. 13, 2020) “Special needs plan should be carefully considered”

 

Does Your Inherited House have a Mortgage?

When a loved one dies, there are always questions about wills, inheritances and how to manage all of their legal and financial affairs. It’s worse if there’s no will and no estate planning has been done. This recent Bankrate article, “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?,” says that things can get even more complicated, when there’s a mortgage on the inherited house.

Heirs often inherit the family home. However, if it comes with a mortgage, you’ll want to work with an estate planning attorney. If there are family members who could become troublesome, if houses are located in different states or if there’s a lot of money in the estate, it’s better to have the help of an experienced professional.

Death does not mean the mortgage goes away. Heirs need to decide how to manage the loan payments, even if their plan is to sell the house. If there are missing payments, there may be penalties added onto the late payment. Worse, you may not know about the mortgage until after a few payments have gone unpaid.

Heirs do have several options:

If the plan is for the heirs to move into the home, they may be able to assume the mortgage and continue paying it. There is also the option to do a cash-out refinance and pay that way.

If you plan to sell the home, which might make it easier if no one in the family wants to live in the home, paying off the mortgage by using the proceeds from the sale is usually the way to go. If there is enough money in the estate account to pay the mortgage while the home is on the market, that money will come out of everyone’s share. Here again, the help of an estate planning attorney will be valuable.

Heirs have certain leverage, when dealing with a mortgage bank in an estate situation. There are certain protections available that will give you some leeway as the estate is settling. More good news—the chance of owing federal estate taxes right now is pretty small. An estate must be worth at least $11.58 million, before the federal estate tax is due.

There are still 17 states and Washington D.C. that will want payment of a state estate tax, an inheritance tax or both. There also might be capital gains tax liability from the sale of the home.

If you decide to take over the loan, the lender should be willing to work with you. The law allows heirs to assume a loan, especially when the transfer of property is to a relative, because the borrower has died. Surviving spouses have special protections to ensure that they can keep an inherited home, as long as they can afford it. In many states, this is done by holding title by “tenancy by the entireties” or “community property with right of survivorship.”

When there is a reverse mortgage on the property, options include paying off or refinancing the balance and keeping the home, selling the home for at least 95% of the appraised value, or agreeing to a deed in lieu of foreclosure. There is a window of time for the balance to be repaid, which may be extended, if the heir is actively engaged with the lender to pay the debt. However, if a year goes by and the reverse mortgage is not paid off, the lender must begin the foreclosure process.

Nothing changes if the heir is a surviving spouse, but if the borrower who dies had an unmarried partner, they have limited options, unless they are on the loan.

What if the mortgage is “underwater,” meaning that the value of the inherited home is less than the outstanding mortgage debt? If the mortgage is a non-recourse loan, meaning the borrower does not have to pay more than the value of the home, then the lender has few options outside of foreclosure. This is also true with a reverse mortgage. Heirs are fully protected, if the home isn’t worth enough to pay off the entire balance.

If there is no will, things get extremely complicated. Contact an estate planning attorney as soon as possible.

Reference: Bankrate (Oct. 22, 2020) “Does the home you inherited include a mortgage?”

What are the Responsibilities of a Trustee?

Before accepting the role of a trustee, it is important to have a thorough understanding of what you will need to do and for how long. Trustees are often appointed to manage trust assets for a child or adult with special needs. This responsibility could be for a lifetime, so be sure that you are up for the task. Trustee duties are outlined in a recent article, “Trustee responsibilities,” from InsuranceNewsNet.com.

When the person who set up the trust, known as the “grantor,” dies, the trustee is in charge of settling the trust. That includes tasks like:

1–Locating and reviewing all of the documents of the grantor, especially any funeral and burial instructions.

2–If the grantor owned a home or an apartment, changing the locks for security, notifying the homeowner’s insurance company, if the house will be unoccupied for an extended period of time, and checking on auto insurance policies, if there are cars or other vehicles.

3–Unless the executor is taking care of this task, the trustee needs to obtain multiple originals of the death certificate. These are usually ordered by the funeral director.

4–Listing all assets with the Date of Death (DOD) values of any assets. This determines the “cost basis” of assets that are to be transferred to beneficiaries. If assets are later sold and used to distribute proceeds, the cost-basis is used to determine income tax liability.

5–Consolidate multiple financial accounts into one account. The check register will become a register of trust activities and beneficiaries may inspect it. The trustee’s first responsibility is to protect the trust’s funds.

6–Pay outstanding bills and debts. The trustee may be personally liable, if this is not handled correctly.

7–Meet with an estate planning attorney to determine if the trust must file income tax returns or if the estate of the grantor must file income tax returns.

8–File claims for life insurance, IRAs and annuities.

9–Create an accounting for all trust financial activity from the grantor’s DOD to be distributed to the beneficiaries.

10–Transfer assets to beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust and have an estate planning attorney send each beneficiary a receipt, release and waiver for any further responsibility and liability.

The responsibilities of a trustee are similar to the responsibilities of an executor, except that wills are used in probate court and trusts are created to avoid probate court. Another benefit of trusts is that they can help avoid litigation between beneficiaries and keep the estate’s affairs private.

Reference: InsuranceNewsNet.com (Oct. 19, 2020) “Trustee responsibilities”

Estate Battles Over Personal Property Distribution

Creating and probating a last will and testament is rarely a simple task, but one of the most challenging aspects is the distribution of personal property, warns the article “Be clear about personal property distribution in your will” from The News-Enterprise. The nature of personal property—that it is relatively low in market value but high in sentimental value—is just part of the problem.

You’d be surprised how many families fight over a favorite ceramic dish or an inexpensive oil painting. However, those fights slow down the process of settling the estate and can create unnecessary costs.

The distribution of personal property is usually part of the residual estate, that which is left over when other assets, like a home, bank accounts, etc., have been distributed. Some families don’t even have a chance to select items, and instead find themselves in irrational bidding wars at estate sales.

This issue may be avoided by having precise language in the last will and testament about these items. First, the testator, the person who is creating the will, should outline the specific items they want to be given to specific people. Promised items should be listed and removed from the general pool of personal property.

Next, the testator names who should be included in the distribution of remaining personal property. While some people list the same recipients of the full estate, this is not always the case, particularly if there are no children or if property is being left to charity. One option is to limit the beneficiaries of personal items to only close family members.

Third, provide clear directions for how the remaining items will be distributed. Will beneficiaries take turns in a defined order? Should the property be appraised, and values being divided equally by the executor? Be as specific as possible.

If there are any unclaimed items, provide instructions for those as well. Do you want a collection of expensive cookware to be sent to a charitable organization? Clothing, furniture, and other items should be either donated to charity or sold at an estate sale, with the proceeds distributed between the beneficiaries.

Another way to avoid conflicts over personal property is to give away items, while you are living. Sentimental gifts are a good alternative for holiday gifts, especially for seniors on a fixed budget. This way the items are clearly out of the estate.

A warning for those who are thinking about taking the “sticky note” system: it rarely goes off without a hitch. Attaching stickers to items with the name of the person who you want to receive them is vulnerable to someone else removing the stickers. Similarly, naming one person to distribute all personal items could lead to strife between family members. There’s no legally enforceable way to ensure that they will follow your wishes.

Address the issue of personal property with your estate planning attorney. They will be able to help determine the least acrimonious means of ensuring that the people you want will end up with the things you want.

Reference: The News-Enterprise (Sep. 29, 2020) “Be clear about personal property distribution in your will”

Act Quickly to Protect an Estate

For most families, the process of estate administration or the probate of a will starts weeks after the death of a loved one.  However, before that time, there are certain steps that need to be taken immediately after death, according to a recent article “Protecting an estate requires swift action” from The Record-Courier. It is not always easy to keep a clear head and stay on top of these tasks but pushing them aside could lead to serious losses and possible liability.

The first step is to secure the deceased’s home, cars and personal property. The residence needs to be locked to prevent unauthorized access. It may be wise to bring in a locksmith, so that anyone who had been given keys in the past will not be able to go into the house. Cars should be parked inside garages and any personal property needs to be securely stored in the home. Nothing should be moved until the trust administration or probate has been completed. Access to the deceased’s digital assets and devices also need to be secured.

Mail needs to be collected and retrieved to prevent the risk of unauthorized removal of mail and identity theft. If there is no easy access to the mailbox, the post office needs to be notified, so mail can be forwarded to an authorized person’s address.

Estate planning documents need to be located and kept in a safe place. The person who has been named as the executor in the will needs to have those documents. If there are no estate planning documents or if they cannot be located, the family will need to work with an estate planning attorney. The estate may be subjected to a probate proceeding.

One of the responsibilities that most executors don’t know about, is that when a person dies, their will needs to be admitted to the court, regardless whether they had trusts. If the deceased left a will, the executor or the person who has possession of the will must deliver it to the court clerk. Failing to do so could result in large civil liability.

At least five and as many as ten original death certificates should be obtained. The executor will need them when closing accounts. As soon as possible, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies, pension plans, insurance companies and others need to be notified of the person’s passing. The Social Security Administration needs to be notified, so direct deposits are not sent to the person’s bank account. Depending on the timing of the death, these deposits may need to be returned. The same is true if the deceased was a veteran—the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) need to be notified. There may be funeral benefits or survivor benefits available.

It is necessary, even in a time of grief, to protect a loved one’s estate in a timely and thorough manner. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help through this process.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 17, 2020) “Protecting an estate requires swift action”

Estate Planning Actions to Consider before 2020 Ends

When it comes to estate planning, there’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” solution. That is especially true before a presidential election. However, there are several factors that should be considered and discussed with your estate planning attorney, as recommended in this recent article from The National Law Review “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020.”

The estate, gift and generational-skipping transfer tax exemption is now $11.58 million per person. It’s scheduled to increase every year by an inflationary indexed amount through 2025 and in 2026 will revert to $5 million. If Biden wins the election, don’t be surprised if changes are made earlier. The IRS has already said that if the exemption is used this year, there will be no claw back. This is a “use it or lose it” scenario. If you are planning on using it, now is the time to do so.

It is possible that Discounts, GRATS, Grantor Trusts and other estate planning techniques may go away, depending upon who wins the election and control of Congress. Consider taking advantage of commonly used estate planning tools before it is too late.

Married couples who are not ready to gift significant amounts to their children or to put assets into trusts for their children should consider the SLAT–Spousal Lifetime Access Trust. They can create and gift the exemption amount to a SLAT and still maintain access to the assets.

Single individuals who similarly are not ready to make large gifts and give up access to assets may also create and gift an exemption amount to a trust in a jurisdiction based on “domestic asset protection trust” legislation. They can be a beneficiary of such a trust.

Interest rates are at an all-time low, and that is when tools like intra family loans, GRATs and GLATs are at their best.

Moving to Florida, Nevada, Texas and other low- or no-income tax states has become very popular, especially for people who can work remotely. Be aware that high tax states like New York and California are not going to let your tax revenue leave easily. Check with your estate planning attorney to make sure you’re following the rules in giving up your domicile in a high-income tax state.

Reference: The National Law Review (Oct. 6, 2020) “Top Ten Estate Planning Recommendations before the End of 2020”