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The information contained on this website is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter.  If you wish to discuss the topics addressed on this website, or other estate planning issues, please contact Lara Sass & Associates, PLLC.

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At Lara Sass & Associates, PLLC, we take a holistic approach to the practice of estate planning.  We work closely with our clients' insurance, financial, tax and other advisors to ensure coordination and proper implementation of the estate plan.  


Life insurance can offer simple and flexible solutions to address many estate planning needs, regardless of the size of an individual’s estate.  Individuals without life insurance should think about coverage to address the following concerns:


  • Estate Liquidity & Expenses/Taxes.  Estates facing estate taxes must pay the liability in cash, generally nine months after the decedent’s death.  Non-taxable estates will still have expenses, including funeral costs, outstanding medical expenses and family support.  Further, seemingly liquid estates can become essentially illiquid if marketable assets are at significant lows due to market conditions at death (e.g., the depressed stock market in 2008).  Ensuring sufficient liquidity for taxes and expenses can minimize conflict, reduce the family’s stress and avoid “fire-sales” of estate assets to generate cash.

  • Equalize Beneficiaries.  Life insurance can facilitate disproportionate asset distributions, such as distributions of real estate or business interests to certain family members while equalizing other heirs with cash.

  • Blended Family Planning.  For individuals with “blended families,” life insurance can minimize conflict by providing for children from prior marriages while also leaving separate assets to the surviving spouse as needed to maintain his or her current lifestyle.

  • Equalize Spousal Wealth.  Often, spouses may not have equal assets in their individual names, particularly if a spouse is younger.  Although portability can make this less of an issue, relying on portability presents unique issues, and it does not apply to the generation-skipping transfer tax exemption.  Acquiring convertible term insurance on a less wealthy spouse can be a simple and cost-effective solution for increasing that spouse’s estate.


As with estate plans, existing life insurance should be reviewed periodically with the individual’s life insurance advisor, especially if there have been major life changes, to ensure the coverage still meets the family’s needs and the policy is performing financially as projected.  Questions to review include:


  • Policy Type.  What kind of coverage does the policy provide -- term or permanent?  Term coverage typically ends after a specified term.  Permanent life insurance often is designed to provide a death benefit for the insured’s life.

  • Premiums.  What is the current amount, will it vary from year to year, will changes in payment timing and amount impact the policy’s death benefit or cash value growth (if any), and will the premiums terminate (i.e., when will the policy become “paid-up”)?

  • Death Benefits.  What is the total death benefit, is it sufficient for current family needs, will it vary (possible with certain permanent policies), and is any part guaranteed?

  • Cash Value.  For permanent policies, what is the current cash value, is it currently accessible (and under what terms), has it grown, what is the anticipated growth (e.g., what is the effect of interest on money paid and received at different times on the policy), and does investment of the cash value need to be actively managed (and if so, by whom)?

  • Conversion/Modification.  Can the policy be converted into another form of coverage (term to permanent) or modified to adjust premiums or benefits to meet new needs, and are there timing issues (e.g., a term policy conversion must occur before a certain year)? 


Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)


To be an effective estate planning tool, life insurance should be owned by an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT), not by the insured or the insured's spouse.   If a life insurance policy is owned by an ILIT, the entire policy proceeds payable at the insured's death are typically excluded from the taxable estates of both the donor and the donor's spouse.  When used in the estate planning context, life insurance can provide a means of leveraging annual exclusion or taxable gifts into a significant wealth transfer to younger generations.  For instance, relatively small annual exclusion gifts may be used to pay the premium cost on a life insurance policy which will result in a significant death benefit to the donor's children or grandchildren.  In addition, as discussed above, life insurance can play an important role in providing liquidity for the payment of taxes in an estate which holds assets which are illiquid or not easily marketable.  Any estate tax owed generally must be paid within nine months from the decedent’s date of death.  Accordingly, if assets must be sold quickly in order to satisfy the estate tax obligation, the estate may not realize the full potential value of those assets.  In such a situation, insurance proceeds can provide the readily available assets with which to satisfy the estate tax obligation.


At Lara Sass & Associates, PLLC, we would be pleased to meet with you and your insurance, financial, tax and other advisors, or recommend premier advisors with whom we have experience, in order to ensure optimal coordination and implementation of your estate plan.