Because the federal gift and estate tax exemption amount currently is $12.06 million, fewer people need life insurance to provide their families with the liquidity to pay estate taxes. But life insurance can still play an important part in your estate plan, particularly in conjunction with charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) and other charitable giving strategies.
Home for highly appreciated assets
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 may be useful when you contribute highly appreciated assets, such as stock or real estate, 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. Another benefit is that, if you opt to receive annual distributions from your trust, that income stream generally will be taxed at a lower rate than other income using a formula that combines ordinary taxable income, tax-exempt income, capital gains and other rates.
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.
Charities as beneficiaries
CRTs are ideal for philanthropically minded individuals. But there are other ways to use life insurance to fund charitable gifts and enjoy tax benefits. You might, for example, transfer your policy to a nonprofit organization and take a charitable income tax deduction (subject to certain limitations) for it. If you continue to pay premiums on the policy after the charity becomes its owner and beneficiary, you can take additional charitable deductions.
Another scenario is to just name a charity as your policy’s beneficiary. Because you retain ownership, you can’t take charitable income tax deductions during your life. But when you die, your estate will be entitled to an estate tax charitable deduction.
Wealth replacement tool
Life insurance can be used to replace wealth in many circumstances — not only when you’re donating to charity. For instance, if you’ve decided to forgo long term care (LTC) insurance and pay any LTC-related expenses (such as home nursing services or care in a nursing facility) out of pocket, you may not have as much to leave your heirs. Life insurance can help ensure that you provide your family with an inheritance.
Federal estate tax liability may no longer be a concern if your estate is valued at less than $12.06 million. But, depending on your goals, life insurance can help you make charitable gifts, leave money to your heirs and realize tax advantages. We can explain the types of policies that might be appropriate for estate planning purposes.