Life Insurance and Estate Planning: Protecting Your Beneficiaries’ Interests

12 Jul Life Insurance and Estate Planning: Protecting Your Beneficiaries’ Interests

One misconception people have about life insurance is that naming beneficiaries is all you have to do to ensure the benefits will be available for a surviving spouse, children, or other intended beneficiary. Life insurance is an important estate planning tool, but without certain protections in place, there’s no guarantee that your spouse or children will receive the benefit of your purchase of life insurance. Consider the following examples:

The Effects of Remarriage 

David identifies his wife Betsy as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Betsy does receive the death benefit from the insurance policy, but when Betsy remarries, she adds her new husband’s name to the bank account where she deposited the death benefit. In so doing, she leaves the death benefit from David’s life insurance to her new husband, rather than to her children as she and David discussed before his death. Although she indicates in her will that the funds should be distributed to her children, the joint bank account passes outside her estate, and therefore, outside her will. 

Adjustments for Minors

Dawn, a single mother, names her 10-year-old son Mark as a beneficiary on her life insurance. She passes away when he is twelve. The court names a relative as a guardian or conservator for Mark until he is of age. By the time Mark reaches his 18th birthday, his inheritance has been partially spent down on court costs, attorney’s fees, and guardian/conservator fees. Additionally, it hasn’t kept pace with inflation because of the restrictive investment options available to guardians or conservators. Dawn hoped the life insurance proceeds would be there for Mark’s college, but the costs and lack of investment flexibility mean there may not be as much as Dawn hoped. 

Avoiding Problems Is Easy With a Little Planning

One solution to these complications is to set up a trustWhen estate planning, a common method for passing assets is by placing them in a trust, with a spouse or children as beneficiaries. The same approach may also be used for life insurance policy proceeds. You can designate the trust as the life insurance policy’s beneficiary, so the death benefits flow directly into the trust. Two popular ways to accomplish this: 

Revocable Living Trust (RLT) 

This option works well for those who have a modest-sized estate or who have already set up a trust. Naming your RLT as a life insurance beneficiary simply adds those death benefits to what you already have in trust, payable only to beneficiaries of the trust itself. The benefit of this approach is that it instantly coordinates your life insurance proceeds with the rest of your estate plan. 

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

For an added layer of protection, an ILIT can both own the life insurance policy and be named as the beneficiary. As The Balance explains, this not only protects the death benefits from potential creditors and predators, but from estate taxes as well.

Not everyone needs estate tax planning, but everyone who’s purchased life insurance needs to take an extra step to ensure theirloved ones’ financial future. To discuss your best options for structuring your life insurance estate plan, give us a call today. We’re here to help.

Dan McKenzie
Dan McKenzie
dan@themckenziefirm.com

Dan specializes in estate planning, estate administration, and small business counsel. He opened the McKenzie Law Firm in 2013, after spending 10 years as a litigator, seeing what can happen when people fail to carefully identify and mitigate their risks. He is pleased to be raising four kids in the same state where he grew up.