Most people know that the proceeds of a life insurance policy are generally free of income taxes. What many don't realize, however, is that the same proceeds are included in one's estate for estate tax purposes.
The federal estate tax will be back next year with a rate of 55% for amounts over $1 million. This will mean that many folks who do not think of themselves as wealthy will have a significant estate tax problem in the event of their death.
However, this is an easy problem to fix. By creating an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) and transferring the ownership of the policy to the trust, estate tax at the death of the insured (and the beneficiaries) can be avoided. For a transferred policy, the insured must survive by three years for the proceeds to escape taxation, but a newly issued policy in the name of the trust is immediately exempt.
I see a lot of clients who are reluctant to set up an ILIT because of the cost (usually $1,000 to $2,500 or so). Not chicken feed, but not much compared to the hundred of thousands of dollars the ILIT will save. People don't think twice about spending $500 a year to insure a $20,000 car, but can't justify a one-time expense of a couple of thousand dollars to save a couple of hundred thousand for the benefit of their family. Not logical.
That's why I call the failure to create an ILIT estate planning's costliest mistake. An ILIT is quickly and easily implemented by an experienced estate planning attorney, will not limit or complicate the ownership of your assets, and is a veritable bargain in comparison the benefit it will provide.