Many people do not realize that life insurance proceeds are in fact taxed. Although these proceeds escape income taxes, they ARE counted as part of your taxable estate. An article in The Wall Street Journal discusses one way to shelter such proceeds from estate taxes, the Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust.
In order to avoid such tax consequences, you may choose to transfer ownership of your existing life insurance policy to an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (“ILIT”). By transferring such ownership, the ILIT is removed from your estate. Once established, an ILIT also allows you to split death benefits among several beneficiaries any way you wish. You also retain the power to decide how and when the benefits will be distributed to your heirs.
If you believe that an ILIT is right for you, you should act sooner, rather than later. Existing policies transferred to ILITs are subject to a three-year look-back period, meaning that if you die within three years of its creation, your life insurance proceeds will revert back to your name and be included within your taxable estate (Although this is not the case for new policies purchased directly by the life insurance trust.
An ILIT is usually used for life insurance policies that were set up for the sole benefit of the heirs. If you need to own or access your life insurance policy at anytime, an ILIT may still be a good solution for you, but it must be drafted with that goal in mind.