When Should I Terminate an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)?

Nj.com’s recent article entitled “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?” looks at the situation where a person created a revocable and an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) to take care of his family after his death.

However, now everyone in the family is financially independent and the value of his estate is far below the 2021 taxable threshold of $11.7 million.

Should he end the trusts and simply designate his children as beneficiaries of his investment accounts and life insurance?

The purpose of an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is to own and control term or permanent life insurance policies, so the policy proceeds aren’t part of the insured’s taxable estate upon death.

In this situation, the ILIT was funded with a term policy that’s set to expire soon. As a result, it may be easier to let the policy owned by the ILIT expire.

If that happens, the ILIT would be immaterial. Note that the terms of the ILIT will dictate the procedure for the termination of the trust. This can be simple or difficult. Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney to examine the trust’s language.

A revocable living trust lets the individual creating the trust control the assets in the trust and avoid probate.

This type of trust can also be used to manage the trust assets by a successor trustee, if the grantor who created the trust becomes incapacitated.

An experienced estate planning attorney will know the state laws that regulate trusts, so consult with him or her. For example, banks in New Jersey may freeze 50% of the assets in an estate upon the owner’s death to make certain that any estate or inheritance taxes due are paid. In the Garden State, a tax waiver must be obtained to lift the freeze. However, the assets in a trust aren’t subject to a similar freeze.

At the grantor’s death, a trustee must pay income tax, if the gross income of the trust reaches the threshold. However, the trust may not accumulate gross income of $600, if the assets are distributed outright to the beneficiaries soon after the death of the grantor.

Reference: nj.com (June 15, 2021) “Should I terminate this trust and do I need a will?”

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”

Different Trusts for Different Estate Planning Purposes

There are a few things all trusts have in common, explains the article “All trusts are not alike,” from the Times Herald-Record. They all have a “grantor,” the person who creates the trust, a “trustee,” the person who is in charge of the trust, and “beneficiaries,” the people who receive trust income or assets. After that, they are all different. Here’s an overview of the different types of trusts and how they are used in estate planning.

“Revocable Living Trust” is a trust created while the grantor is still alive, when assets are transferred into the trust. The trustee transfers assets to beneficiaries, when the grantor dies. The trustee does not have to be appointed by the court, so there’s no need for the assets in the trust to go through probate. Living trusts are used to save time and money, when settling estates and to avoid will contests.

A “Medicaid Asset Protection Trust” (MAPT) is an irrevocable trust created during the lifetime of the grantor. It is used to shield assets from the grantor’s nursing home costs but is only effective five years after assets have been placed in the trust. The assets are also shielded from home care costs after assets are in the trust for two and a half years. Assets in the MAPT trust do not go through probate.

The Supplemental or Special Needs Trust (SNT) is used to hold assets for a disabled person who receives means-tested government benefits, like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid. The trustee is permitted to use the trust assets to benefit the individual but may not give trust assets directly to the individual. The SNT lets the beneficiary have access to assets, without jeopardizing their government benefits.

An “Inheritance Trust” is created by the grantor for a beneficiary and leaves the inheritance in trust for the beneficiary on the death of the trust’s creator. Assets do not go directly to the beneficiary. If the beneficiary dies, the remaining assets in the trust go to the beneficiary’s children, and not to the spouse. This is a means of keeping assets in the bloodline and protected from the beneficiary’s divorces, creditors and lawsuits.

An “Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust” (ILIT) owns life insurance to pay for the grantor’s estate taxes and keeps the value of the life insurance policy out of the grantor’s estate, minimizing estate taxes. As of this writing, the federal estate tax exemption is $11.58 million per person.

A “Pet Trust” holds assets to be used to care for the grantor’s surviving pets. There is a trustee who is charge of the assets, and usually a caretaker is tasked to care for the pets. There are instances where the same person serves as the trustee and the caretaker. When the pets die, remaining trust assets go to named contingent beneficiaries.

A “Testamentary Trust” is created by a will, and assets held in a Testamentary Trust do not avoid probate and do not help to minimize estate taxes.

An estate planning attorney in your area will know which of these trusts will best benefit your situation.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (August 1,2020) “All trusts are not alike”

Fixing an Estate Plan Mistake

When an issue arises, you need to seek the assistance of a qualified and experienced estate planning attorney, who knows to fix the problems or find the strategy moving forward.

For example, an irrevocable trust can’t be revoked. However, in some circumstances it can be modified. The trust may have been drafted to allow its trustees and beneficiaries the authority to make certain changes in specific circumstances, like a change in the tax law.

Those kinds of changes usually require the signatures from all trustees and beneficiaries, explains The Wilmington Business Journal’s recent article entitled “Repairing Estate Planning Mistakes: There Are Ways To Clean Up A Mess.”

Another change to an irrevocable trust may be contemplated, if the trust’s purpose may have become outdated or its administration is too expensive. An estate planning attorney can petition a judge to modify the trust in these circumstances when the trust’s purposes can’t be achieved without the requested change. Remember that trusts are complex, and you really need the advice of an experienced trust attorney.

Another option is to create the trust to allow for a “trust protector.” This is a third party who’s appointed by the trustees, the beneficiaries, or a judge. The trust protector can decide if the proposed change to the trust is warranted. However, this is only available if the original trust was written to specify the trust protector.

A term can also be added to the trust to provide “power of appointment” to trustees or beneficiaries. This makes it easier to change the trust for the benefit of current or future beneficiaries.

There’s also decanting, in which the assets of an existing trust are “poured” into a new trust with different terms. This can include extending the trust’s life, changing trustees, fixing errors or ambiguities in the original language, and changing the legal jurisdiction. State trust laws vary, and some allow much more flexibility in how trusts are structured and administered.

The most drastic option is to end the trust. The assets would be distributed to the beneficiaries, and the trust would be dissolved. Approval must be obtained from all trustees and all beneficiaries. A frequent reason for “premature termination” is that a trust’s assets have diminished in value to the extent that administering it isn’t feasible or economical.

Again, be sure your estate plan is in solid shape from the start. Anticipating problems with the help of your lawyer, instead of trying to solve issues later is the best plan.

Reference: Wilmington Business Journal (Jan. 3, 2020) “Repairing Estate Planning Mistakes: There Are Ways To Clean Up A Mess”

What Do I Need to Know About an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?
Revocable trust on a wooden desk.

What Do I Need to Know About an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?

An irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) is a trust that can’t be rescinded, amended, or modified after it’s created. ILITs are made with a life insurance policy as the asset owned by the trust. Once the grantor places property or life insurance death benefits into the trust, she can’t alter the terms of the trust or reclaim any of the properties held by it.

As an alternative to designating an individual beneficiary, ILITs offer several legal and financial advantages to heirs. This includes favorable tax treatment, asset protection, and the assurance that the benefits will be used in a manner concurrent with the benefactor’s wishes.

Investopedia’s recent article, “When Is It a Good Idea to Use ILIT Trust?” says that there are several advantages to ILITs, including state tax considerations, the protection of fiscally-careless beneficiaries from squandering their payouts and the prevention of courts and creditors from accessing the assets.

An ILIT is often used to set aside assets for certain purposes, like paying estate taxes, because these assets themselves aren’t taxable. To do this, the selected assets must be moved into the life insurance trust at least three years before they’re used. If you use a qualified estate planning attorney to create this, the death benefits paid to the ILIT won’t be included in the gross estate of the insured. This is different than when life insurance death benefits are paid to an individual, because the proceeds are included in the taxable estate of the decedent.

The ILIT also has asset protection for the beneficiaries, if they are involved in a lawsuit. That’s because ILITs aren’t considered to be owned by the beneficiaries. This makes it hard for courts to connect the assets to the beneficiary, making them nearly impossible for creditors to access.

There are some drawbacks to using an ILIT, so carefully consider the pros and cons of creating one. Changes to an ILIT can only be made by the beneficiaries. As a result, the benefactor loses control of the assets prior to death.  ILIT assets also are not taxed as part of the estate, but they are taxed as part of the beneficiaries’ estates, leaving a bigger tax burden to their descendants.

Preparing an ILIT is a sophisticated matter, with strict guidelines that must be followed to ensure that it conforms with IRS guidelines. Talk with an experienced estate planning attorney to be sure that it is prepared properly, and that it aligns with your overall estate plan.

Reference: Investopedia (August 5, 2019) “When Is It a Good Idea to Use ILIT Trust?”