If you have a life insurance policy, you probably want to make sure that the life insurance benefits your family will receive after your death won’t be included in your estate. That way, the benefits won’t be subject to the federal estate tax.
Under the estate tax rules, life insurance will be included in your taxable estate if either:
- Your estate is the beneficiary of the insurance proceeds, or
- You possessed certain economic ownership rights (called “incidents of ownership”) in the policy at your death (or within three years of your death).
The first situation is easy to avoid. You can just make sure your estate isn’t designated as beneficiary of the policy.
The second situation is more complicated. It’s clear that if you’re the owner of the policy, the proceeds will be included in your estate regardless of the beneficiary. However, simply having someone else possess legal title to the policy won’t prevent this result if you keep so-called “incidents of ownership” in the policy. If held by you, the rights that will cause the proceeds to be taxed in your estate include: