Say the words "life insurance" to some people, and you're likely to get a less than enthusiastic response. But, more and more frequently, people are discovering that life insurance can be a helpful financial planning tool. Life insurance offers a way for you to help provide for your family, protect your business, and make charitable gifts without reducing your estate.
If you're the owner of a small business, life insurance proceeds can help supply the funds to pay estate taxes and administration expenses, eliminating the possibility that the business will have to be sold to meet these needs. You also can use life insurance to fund a buy-sell agreement for the purchase of your business interests by other stockholders, partners, or your corporation.
You can exclude insurance proceeds from your estate by having a trust or the individuals who will benefit from the proceeds purchase and own the policy. A trust may offer several advantages, so you'll want to consider all your options.
If charitable giving is among your priorities, a life insurance policy can be designed to benefit your favorite charity while allowing you to take advantage of a tax deduction for your contribution. There are several ways to do this. You could purchase a policy on your life and contribute it to the charity. In most cases, you can claim a charitable deduction on your federal income-tax return for your donation and any subsequent premium payments you make. (Check the laws in your state, however, as some states restrict such gifts.)
You also might consider funding a charitable trust that will pay you an income during your lifetime and provide a donation to charity at your death. This arrangement won't reduce the assets your future heirs will inherit if you purchase life insurance to replace the amount passing to charity.
Employers often take advantage of life insurance to provide deferred compensation, typically to key employees. The employee is promised benefits at retirement or a lump-sum death benefit, should the employee die before retirement. Employer-owned life insurance on the employee's life provides the employer with the cash to help meet its obligation to the employee. With a split-dollar life insurance plan, the employee shares some of the cost.
Life insurance can be a complement to your estate plan. The cost and availability of life insurance depends on factors such as age, health and the type and amount of insurance purchased. Life insurance is purchased subject to underwriting approval. A professional financial advisor can help you choose an appropriate and tax-advantaged approach for your circumstances.