Most people would not dispute the value of financial and estate planning, but studies show that relatively few people actually adopt such a plan. Too bad, because in its present form financial and estate planning ensure that a person’s assets and property will be put to the greatest use during life, and to the beneficiary’s best use after death. Planning tools can be as simple as a will, or as complex as a trust. And many times, life insurance can play major role in a trust.
Although most people equate the need for an estate plan with the very rich, it doesn’t take much these days to exceed $600,000 in accumulated assets, the amount at which federal estate taxes kick in. An estate includes virtually anything of value:” real estate, stocks and bonds, savings, pensions, collectibles, jewelry and more. Proper estate and financial planning can help to lessen the eventual tax bite, which ranges as high as 55% of an estate, and preserve or even increase the value of an estate. Trusts can help accomplish those goals.
The definition of a trust is simple enough: an agreement in which a person, bank or trust company manages your assets for the benefit of your beneficiaries. Assets placed in a trust are no longer owned by the person who placed them there, but by the trust. Estate, gift and income taxes are naturally reduced on the individual’s shrunken estate.
The one notable exception is a revocable trust, one of the few that doesn’t offer estate tax advantages, but it does offer flexibility. As the name implies, the trust can be revoked or revised at any time. Assets in these trusts bypass the costly probate process, but are subject to full taxation since full ownership of the assets can be regained at any time.
An irrevocable trust doesn’t offer the same flexibility or control, but it does keep assets out of an estate until death — thus there’s less to levy taxes upon. Once an irrevocable trust is established, it can’t be changed without adverse estate tax implications.
Many planners will suggest that all or part of an irrevocable trust be funded with life insurance. Such an agreement can provide beneficiaries with the necessary liquidity to take care of estate taxes and administrative costs without having to sell off assets.
A Crummey Trust is one popular tool in this situation, allowing for the purchase of an insurance policy with gift-tax-free dollars.
Another type of irrevocable trust is the Charitable Remainder Trust, a vehicle in which assets, including life insurance, can be gifted to charity, allowing for tax deductions during the donor’s lifetime or upon dispersal of the estate.
A variety of other trusts can be used to pass assets to minors or dependents of any age, to spouses who are not U.S. citizens, and to ensure the orderly continuation of a business.
With the assistance of qualified financial advisors, a property structured trust can ensure that future plans can be carried out. Many times, life insurance makes those plans a financial reality.
Frank Amato is a Chartered Financial Consultant and the Managing Member of Arizona ESOP Group, LLC in Scottsdale, AZ. He is receptive to any comments and/or questions at (480)222-0199.