Thursday, April 18, 2013

Leveraging IRA Accounts using Life Insurance

One interesting item in President Obama's latest budget proposal is limiting IRA accounts to $3 million, or some number calculated to purchase a maximum benefit of $205,000 at retirement. In addition to limiting the amounts that can be tax-deferred under IRAs, this would probably have the effect of minimizing the benefit of "stretch IRAs". While this idea may never be a part of the final budget it does bring to mind a planning option I have used with IRAs in the right circumstances.
Because IRAs eventually are generally fully taxable, a $3 million IRA, or even a smaller IRA, will be subject to significant income taxation. If the taxpayer's estate is above the $5 million lifetime exemption, the total tax burden on the IRA only gets worse.
If a client desires to maximize the amount going to their heirs, they may want to consider leveraging their IRA using life insurance. The strategy works as follows:
  1. Presuming the client does not need IRA distributions to support their lifestyle, Instead of delaying IRA distributions until age 70 1/2, a client begins taking distributions after 59 1/2 when there are no longer penalties for early distributions.
  2. After paying the income tax on the IRA distribution, the client gifts the remainder of the distribution to an Irrevocable Trust benefiting family members.
  3. The Irrevocable Trust Trustee purchases a life insurance policy on the life of the client. After satisfying some legal requirements (Crummey Notices), the Trustee uses the funds to pay the annual premium of the life insurance policy.
  4. At the death of the client, the Trustee collects the insurance proceeds, income tax-free, and uses them for the benefit of the client's family.
The client has succeeded in turning a heavily income (and possibly estate) taxed IRA account into a tax-free account, of significantly greater value, depending on the size of the insurance policy.
If the beneficiaries are minors or adults without a good record of handling money, the Irrevocable Trust can protect them from themselves and their creditors. If all of the beneficiaries are adults and the client is comfortable with their maturity, the client can simply make gifts to the family members who will then use it to purchase a life insurance policy on the client. Either way, the proceeds are income tax-free and, if properly structured, are not part of the client's estate.
The client can go a step further if he/she does not like the idea that the IRA benefits are going to be income and possibly estate taxable after death. The client and the client’s spouse can have full use of the IRA account during their lifetimes, and then provide that at the second death the IRA account be distributed directly to a charity, tax-free. The family members get their benefit, the charity gets its benefit, and the only entity that loses is the Internal Revenue Service.
Most of my clients are not inclined towards making significant charitable gifts, but with the right strategy, they love the idea that their loved ones are protected, they can satisfy any charitable inclinations, and the IRS is essentially paying for it. With proper planning and the help of qualified professionals, family members are better protected.

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