Life insurance can be a powerful estate planning tool for nontaxable estates

For years, life insurance has played a critical role in estate planning, providing a source of liquidity to pay estate taxes and other expenses. It’s been particularly valuable for business owners, whose families might not have the liquid assets they need to pay estate taxes without selling the business.

Because the federal gift and estate tax exemption has climbed to $12.92 million (for 2023), estate tax liability generally is no longer a concern for the vast majority of families. But even for nontaxable estates, life insurance continues to offer significant estate planning benefits.

Replacing income and wealth

If you die unexpectedly, life insurance can protect your family by replacing your lost income. It can also be used to replace wealth in a variety of contexts. For example, suppose you own highly appreciated real estate or other assets and wish to dispose of them without generating current capital gains tax liability. One option is to contribute the assets to a charitable remainder trust (CRT).

CRTs are irrevocable trusts that work like this: You contribute property to a CRT during your life or upon your death and the trust makes annual distributions to you or your beneficiary (typically, your spouse) for a specified period of time. When that period ends, the remainder goes to a charity of your choice.

These instruments are particularly useful when you contribute highly appreciated assets and want to reduce capital gains tax exposure. Because the CRT is tax-exempt, it can sell the assets and reinvest the proceeds without currently triggering the entire capital gain.

Here’s where life insurance comes in. Because CRT assets eventually go to charity — usually after both you and your spouse have died — you won’t have as much to leave to your children or other heirs. A life insurance policy can replace that “lost” wealth in a tax advantaged way.

Treating your children equally

If much of your wealth is tied up in a family business, treating your children fairly can be a challenge. It makes sense to leave the business to those children who work in it, but what if your remaining assets are insufficient to provide an equal inheritance to children who don’t? For many families, the answer is to purchase a life insurance policy to make up the difference.

Protecting your assets

Depending on applicable state law, a life insurance policy’s cash surrender value and death benefit may be shielded from creditors’ claims. For additional protection, consider setting up an irrevocable life insurance trust to hold your policy.

Finding the right policy

These are just a few examples of the many benefits provided by life insurance. We can help determine which type of life insurance policy is right for your situation.

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