Flexibility in the tax planning of high net worth individuals is extremely important. When engaged in personal estate planning, these individuals express reluctance to tie assets up in irrevocable trusts, despite the estate tax planning benefits of doing so. Having easy access to their assets is also a recurring theme.
The ability to tap into assets targeted for estate tax planning–for instance, a life insurance policy–is important for emergencies or opportunities that occur during the individual’s life. Typically, this access is precluded once the policy is put into an irrevocable trust. In addition, due to perceived estate tax uncertainty, many high net worth individuals are averse to losing control over their life insurance policy by parking it in an irrevocable trust when the policy may not have to be removed from the estate if estate taxes are substantially reduced or eliminated.
The solution is to create a mechanism that provides the high net worth individual with lifetime access to the life insurance policy purchased for estate planning, while maintaining the flexibility to remove the policy death benefit from the individual’s estate at death.
The life swap concept accomplishes both goals: It allows for policy access and for the ability to remove the policy death benefit from the taxable estate. With life swap, the individual creates an irrevocable defective grantor trust and funds it with an asset to which the individual does not currently need access. Concurrently, the individual purchases a life insurance policy sufficient to meet the potential future estate tax need.
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During the insured’s life, he or she can access policy values because the policy is owned directly by the insured. This provides a ready cash reserve that is accessible on a tax-advantaged basis. Cash withdrawals from a life insurance policy are considered a return of premium and, therefore, are not subject to income tax (limited by the insured’s investment or “basis” in the policy).
Loans may be taken against policy values after the insured has withdrawn the basis amount. This cash reserve may be used by the insured as a financial stop-gap during his or her life. Meanwhile, the asset(s) in the irrevocable trust is appreciating outside the insured’s taxable estate.
If, prior to the insured’s death, it is determined that the policy death benefit should be removed from the insured’s estate, the policy owned by the insured may be “swapped” for the asset(s) held in the irrevocable trust. Although the value of the asset received by the insured in the swap is included in the insured’s taxable estate, the larger death benefit of the life insurance policy escapes estate inclusion once it is swapped into the irrevocable trust. This flexibility, however, is attained at the price of timing volatility. If the insured dies before the swap is conducted, the full death benefit remains in the insured’s taxable estate.
Properly structured and timed, life swap may be accomplished with no adverse tax consequences. And the insured’s goals of access to the policy values during life while removing the death benefit from the insured’s estate, if desired in the future, are accomplished.
The first step in structuring the life swap is to make the irrevocable trust defective for income tax purposes. The defective grantor trust rule to be used for life swap is found in Code Section 675(4)(C). By adding the language found in this code section to the irrevocable trust, the grantor gains the ability to “swap” property held by the trust with property of similar value held outside the trust.
Because the properties being swapped are of similar value, the transfers should not be subject to income or gift taxation. Note that the valuation used for both the life insurance policy and for the asset received from the trust must be fair market value to avoid gift tax issues.