Estate Planning Pitfall – You Haven’t Transferred Ownership of a Life Insurance Policy to a Trust

After recent tax legislation, including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), few tax shelters are left standing. One key exception is life insurance. If certain requirements are met, the buildup of value in a life insurance policy is exempt from current income tax, while proceeds payable upon death can avoid estate tax.

But, in order to exclude the death benefit from your estate, you cannot be the owner of the policy, or possess any “incidents of ownership” in it. Incidents of ownership include, in a broad sense, the ability to control how the policy is used or who’s named as beneficiary. If you have incidents of ownership, the death benefit of the policy is included in your taxable estate.

There’s a relatively simple solution that will allow you, at least potentially, to keep the policy out of your estate. You could transfer your policy to an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). There are a number of factors to consider, including the possibility that the policy will be included in your estate anyway, depending on how long before your death you make the transfer.

If, however, you’ve owned a policy for a while and no longer qualify for insurance because of health changes, transferring the policy may allow you to keep the proceeds out of your estate. Particularly if, with the (estimated at the time of this writing) $11.18 million gift and estate exemption, you might not be subject to federal estate tax even if the policy is included in your estate, it may be worthwhile to transfer the policy now.

For a more in depth discussion on this topic, listen to our podcast featuring Julie Malekhedayat: You Haven’t Transferred Ownership of a Life Insurance Policy to a Trust Podcast


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