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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Benefits of a Life Insurance Trust

I. What is a Life Insurance Trust?

A. Legal Relationship - A trust is a relationship that exists when one person or an entity (the Trustee) holds legal title to money or property for the benefit of one or more individuals or organizations (the Beneficiaries). The terms of the relationship are decided by the person providing money for the trust (the Grantor), and are usually evidenced in writing.
1. Grantor/Settlor - The Grantor or Settlor is the person or entity that creates the trust by providing the money or insurance to fund it.

2. Trustee - The Trustee is the person or entity that manages the trust assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries of the trust. The trustee is bound by a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of trust, as directed by the Grantor or Settlor.

3. Beneficiary - A Beneficiary of a trust is a person or entity that is entitled to receive money from the trust. The manner in which a person receives such money varies from trust to trust, and generally a Grantor may put in a range of provisions to restrict a Beneficiary’s access to the money.
B. Design - A life insurance trust is specifically designed to hold life insurance.
1. Irrevocable – Once created, a life insurance trust is almost impossible to change.

2. Loss of Control - Generally, the insured must give up all rights to control the trust and the life insurance policy in favor of a trusted advisor. The Grantor should decide the terms of the trust upfront so that the Trustee may carry out the Grantor’s wishes.

3. Tax - A life insurance trust is typically designed to save money on estate and inheritance taxes. It should also allow the Grantor to use his or her annual gift tax exclusion so that the premium payments are not treated as a taxable gift.

II. What are the benefits of an insurance trust?

A. Reduces estate and inheritance taxes - If life insurance is owned by a trust, and the trust is structured properly, the proceeds from the life insurance will NOT be includible in the taxable estate of the Grantor. Note: A trust must purchase the life insurance, otherwise there is a three year look-back period.

B. Allows for control of assets after you die – Despite the fact that the trust is irrevocable and you lose control once it is established, with proper planning, the trust can allow a Grantor to decide when and how his or her heirs should get the proceeds of the life insurance.

C. Asset protection – By giving money to your heirs in trust, it ensures that your heirs are less likely to squander their inheritance. It also protects it from creditors.

III. Who should consider an insurance trust?

A. Recent Divorcees – Many divorce decrees call for an insurance trust to be established. It benefits the custodial parents by giving them assurance of the existence of the policy. It benefits the non-custodial parent by giving them a voice in when the child gets the money and ensuring that they money benefits the children, and not the person they just divorced.

B. Individuals with Significant Assets – Individuals with substantial wealth may benefit from a life insurance trust as a way to reduce taxes or to create liquidity for an estate that may have other tax or cash flow issues.

C. Individuals with Large Insurance Policies – By itself, a large policy can create estate tax issues, so even if a person is not otherwise wealthy, it makes sense to transfer the wealth you do have with minimum tax consequences.

D. Same Sex Couples – Despite the recent changes in some states, including New Jersey, that benefit same sex couples, many states and the federal government still treat same sex couples as nothing more than friends for tax purposes. Accordingly, a life insurance trust will ensure that your loved one benefits upon your death without a large tax bite.

E. Individuals married to Non-Citizen Spouses – A non citizen spouse is not entitled to the unlimited marital deduction for estate and gift tax purposes. Accordingly, if you are married to a non-citizen spouse, the best way to avoid a large estate tax upon your death is to create a life insurance trust.

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