avoiding probate

Life Insurance: Should it Be a Trust Asset?

Adam and Betty wanted to make their estate settlement simple for each other and for their two kids. Knowing that assets in their own individual names would have to go through a court proceeding called probate, they created a revocable living trust and transferred their stock, home, LLCs into their trust.  They wanted to avoid lawyers, judges and courtrooms. 

Adam and Betty had heard that life insurance policies, IRAs, 401-Ks and annuities automatically avoid probate by their very nature because they are paid to the account’s beneficiary.  So, they didn’t transfer their life insurance policies to the trust.  Adam passed away. The insurance company immediately tells Betty that the insurance company needs a court order from the probate court. What?

Because life insurance agents used to believe that there would be some estate tax savings, the insurance agents would write the insurance applications in a way that the husband would own the life insurance policy on the life of the wife, and the wife would own the policy on the life of the husband.

So, when Adam died, it was determined that Adam owned the policy on Betty's life. When Betty dies, the death benefit will be payable to Adam (or Adam's estate). In either case, Adam's probate is necessary to collect the death benefit when Betty dies. In addition, if the policy that Adam owns has cash value, Betty will not be able to access this cash value until the policy’s ownership gets transferred by the probate court proceeding.

Had they transferred their life insurance policies to their trust prior to Adam's death, probate would not have been necessary. After Adam died, Betty, as the sole trustee, would have been able to access the policy’s cash value or change the beneficiary. But since they assumed that life insurance avoided probate, they ended up being required to complete Adam's probate to correct the life insurance problem, even though all of their remaining assets avoided probate.

If you would like to review your life insurance policy ownership and determine your best options, contact us at 214.220.2130 for an appointment. 

Asset Protection Secrets Revealed

Here’s yet another story on why avoiding probate is a good idea.  I represent a North Dallas, Texas man whose wife died in an auto accident.  She died “intestate” meaning without a Will.  In fact, she didn’t have any estate planning in place.  She didn’t have a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Advance Directive / DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order) or anything else.  It just so happens that the wife purchased their family home before she and her husband married, making it her separate property and not their community property.  The difference is really big in the eyes of the law.  The husband wants to sell the house and move out-of-state near his parents so that he can get some help raising their young children. 

Under the Texas Law of Intestacy, and the law of Descent and Distribution, since the house was separate property, the children will receive ownership of the house subject to the husband’s life estate.  But, since they are minors, the court is going to likely require that the estate be administered, that a guardian ad-litem is appointed for the children, and the court will scrutinize any sale of the house to make sure that the children’s best interests are protected.  In short, the process is going to be long, expensive and frustrating because of the court oversight.

Since she didn’t have a Will or a Trust or any other legal planning, we will never know what the wife wanted, but, like most people, we believe that she would have wanted it to be easy on her husband and children and not lengthy and expensive.  Her husband is now in a real bind because he has to continue to make house payments on the house note while he pays rent on a rent house down the street from his parents.  It will likely be six months before he’s in a position to put the house on the market and, the process is even more complicated because he’s now living out of state and has to travel back and forth to Dallas for court.

If they had been clients of ours before the wife passed away, through the use of a Trust, the husband could have sold the house immediately without the delays from court intervention or oversight and without legal expense.  They would likely have had a Will too, but as a “secondary” document, with pour-over provisions.  That means that their primary estate planning tool would have been their Trust with the Will serving as a back-up.

It’s a sad story made even sadder by the predicament that the family is left with.  The frustrating thing is that it all could have been easily avoided.  If you want your family to avoid complications like these, contact our office so that we can speak about the options available to you.

Donald R. Jones, Attorney

The Jones Law Firm

3109 Carlisle St., Suite 100

Dallas, Texas 75204

214.220.2130 office | 214.220.2131 fax

don@jonesestateplanning.com

www.JonesEstatePlanning.com

www.GetMyAffairsInOrder.com

www.NoLawyersNoJudgesNoCourtrooms.com