What Is A Life Insurance Trust Used For?

A life insurance trust is a financial planning tool allowing an individual to better manage and distribute benefits for life insurance policy. It is a legal entity that owns a life insurance policy, often established as an irrevocable trust, and keeps its proceeds separate from the policyholder’s taxable estate. This type of trust is often utilized to financially support beneficiaries, reduce estate taxes, and protect assets from creditors.

When setting up a life insurance trust, the trust becomes the policy owner, with the grantor or creator of the trust forgoing control of the policy. Upon the policyholder’s death, the trust’s trustee is responsible for distributing the policy proceeds according to the specified terms in the trust document. This arrangement offers flexibility in determining how the beneficiaries receive the funds and providing some level of control over the assets even after the grantor’s death.

In summary, a life insurance trust is a valuable financial planning tool that can help individuals ensure the proper management and distribution of their life insurance policy benefits. By placing the policy within an irrevocable trust, the policyholder can protect their assets, minimize estate taxes, and provide a structured and more secure financial future for their beneficiaries.

Overview of Life Insurance Trusts

Definition and Purpose

A life insurance trust is an irrevocable trust designed to hold ownership of a life insurance policy. The primary purpose of a life insurance trust is to exclude the policy’s proceeds from the grantor’s taxable estate while also controlling the distribution of the death benefits to the beneficiaries 1.

Instead of the policyholder, the trust becomes the legal owner of the life insurance policy, and the appointed trustee is responsible for managing the trust and distributing the proceeds according to the grantor’s instructions.

Benefits and Advantages

There are several key benefits and advantages to using a life insurance trust:

  • Estate tax savings: By placing the life insurance policy within an irrevocable trust, the policy’s death benefits are not part of your taxable estate, potentially saving significant amounts in estate taxes 2.

  • Control over distribution: The trust lets you specify when and how the death benefits are distributed to your beneficiaries, ensuring your wishes are fulfilled.

  • Protection from creditors: A life insurance trust provides an added layer of protection for your beneficiaries from their creditors since the trust owns the policy, not the beneficiaries themselves 3.

Estate tax savingsPolicy death benefits not part of taxable estate
Control over distributionSpecify when and how benefits are distributed
Protection from creditorsTrust ownership provides added layer of protection for beneficiaries

Key Elements of a Life Insurance Trust

A life insurance trust is an irrevocable trust designed to hold ownership of a life insurance policy. This legal arrangement can help save your estate money on taxes and give you more control over the distribution of a life insurance policy’s death benefits 1. In this section, we will discuss the key elements of a life insurance trust: the Grantor, Trustee, and Beneficiaries.


The grantor is the person who creates the trust and contributes the life insurance policy to it. The grantor is responsible for determining the terms of the trust, the beneficiaries, and selecting the trustee. Once the trust is established, the grantor gives up control over the policy, making the trust irrevocable 2.


The trustee is the individual or organization responsible for managing the trust. They have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and ensure that the terms of the trust are followed. The trustee can be a family member, friend, or professional trust company, but they must be chosen carefully, as they will play a crucial role in managing the trust’s assets 3.


Beneficiaries are the individuals or entities who will receive the proceeds of the life insurance policy upon the grantor’s death. The grantor can designate primary and contingent beneficiaries, and the trustee is responsible for distributing the death benefit according to the terms of the trust. This allows the grantor to have more control over how their assets are distributed and can help protect the financial future of their loved ones 4.

Summary of Life Insurance Trust Elements

Element Description
Grantor The person who creates the trust and contributes the life insurance policy.
Trustee The individual or organization responsible for managing the trust and its assets.
Beneficiaries The individuals or entities who will receive the proceeds of the life insurance policy upon the grantor’s death.

Establishing a Life Insurance Trust

Setting up the Trust

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is a legal arrangement in which a trust is created to own and manage a life insurance policy. This type of trust is irrevocable, meaning it cannot be dissolved once it is set up. The person who establishes the trust, known as the grantor, transfers the ownership of their existing life insurance policy or purchases a new policy under the trust’s ownership source.

To set up an ILIT, the grantor must:

  1. Choose a trustee, who is responsible for managing the trust according to its terms and conditions;
  2. Draft and sign a trust agreement, outlining the guidelines for the ILIT’s operations;
  3. Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS for the trust;
  4. Transfer the ownership of an existing life insurance policy or purchase a new one under the trust’s ownership.

Funding the Trust

The ILIT must receive assets or funds for the payment of life insurance policy premiums and administrative expenses source. The trust can be funded through various means, including:

Funding MethodExample
CashDirect transfers, gifts, or loans to the trust
StocksTransfer of stock investments
Real EstateDeeding property to the trust
Business InterestsAssigning shares or ownership interests

It is crucial to ensure that funding is adequate and timely to support the trust’s ongoing financial obligations, such as premium payments and administrative expenses.

Managing Policy Premiums

The trustee assumes the responsibility for managing the life insurance policy premiums, ensuring regular and timely payments source. The premiums can be paid using the assets or funds held by the trust, or by receiving new contributions from the grantor.

It is essential for the grantor and trustee to establish a clear communication channel to avoid lapses in premium payments, leading to policy cancellation or forfeiture. Also, it is essential to monitor the policy’s performance to ensure it remains aligned with the grantor’s financial goals and the trust’s purpose.

In summary, establishing a life insurance trust involves setting up the trust, funding it, and managing policy premiums efficiently. This process can help in, estate tax avoidance, and ensuring that beneficiaries receive the insurance proceeds securely and as intended.

Types of Life Insurance Trusts

There are mainly two types of life insurance trusts: Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT) and Revocable Life Insurance Trusts. Each of these trusts serves a specific purpose and has distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the client’s needs and estate planning objectives.

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is a trust that, once created, cannot be changed or terminated by the grantor (the person who sets up the trust). This type of life insurance trust is often used to avoid or reduce estate taxes and provide more control over life insurance proceeds distribution.

Key Features of ILIT:

  • Provides estate tax savings
  • Offers asset protection
  • Cannot be changed or terminated by the grantor
  • Requires the grantor to relinquish control over the life insurance policy

One main drawback of an ILIT is that the grantor will lose control over the life insurance policy, making it essential to structure the trust carefully and appoint a dependable trustee at the outset.

Revocable Life Insurance Trust

A Revocable Life Insurance Trust, on the other hand, allows the grantor to retain control over the trust and its assets and make changes as needed throughout their lifetime. However, this flexibility comes with certain limitations, such as the lack of significant estate tax savings and asset protection compared to an ILIT.

Key Features of Revocable Life Insurance Trust:

  • Grantor maintains control over the trust
  • Can be changed or terminated by the grantor
  • Offers limited estate tax savings and asset protection
  • Provides more flexibility compared to an ILIT

While a revocable life insurance trust offers more flexibility, it may not be the best choice for those primarily concerned with reducing estate taxes or ensuring robust asset protection.

Table comparing ILIT and Revocable Life Insurance Trust:

FeatureILITRevocable Life Insurance Trust
Estate Tax SavingsYesLimited
Asset ProtectionYesLimited
FlexibilityNo (cannot be changed/revoked)Yes (can be changed/revoked)
Grantor’s ControlRelinquishedRetained

Ultimately, the choice between an ILIT and a revocable life insurance trust will depend on the individual’s specific estate planning goals and circumstances.

Common Scenarios for Using a Life Insurance Trust

Estate Planning

A life insurance trust is often used as an estate planning tool to manage life insurance policies and proceeds. By placing a life insurance policy into a trust, you can protect the death benefit from estate taxes, probate, and creditors. The trust can also help ensure that the proceeds are utilized according to your wishes, providing for specific needs or distributions to your beneficiaries. A well-structured life insurance trust can offer flexibility and control over the policy, accommodate changes in circumstances, and minimize disputes among your heirs or beneficiaries.

Tax Benefits

One of the primary benefits of a life insurance trust is the potential tax savings. When a policy is owned by a trust, the proceeds from the policy are excluded from the insured’s taxable estate. This can significantly reduce estate tax liabilities and provide your beneficiaries with more of the death benefit.

For example, consider an individual with a taxable estate of $15 million and a life insurance policy with a $5 million death benefit:

ScenarioEstate Value without TrustEstate Value with TrustPotential Tax Savings
Life Insurance Proceeds in Trust$20 million$15 million$1,925,000

By placing the life insurance policy in a trust, the $5 million death benefit does not increase the individual’s taxable estate, leading to potential tax savings of $1,925,000.

Protecting Assets

Establishing a life insurance trust can help protect assets from creditors and legal disputes. By transferring the ownership of your policy to a trust, you are effectively removing it from your personal assets and making it more difficult for creditors to seize in the event of debts or bankruptcy. In addition, a well-drafted trust can provide safeguards against potential litigation or claims from beneficiaries, ensuring that the objectives of the trust are carried out according to your wishes.

Potential Risks and Challenges

Legal and Tax Implications

Although a Life Insurance Trust can provide several benefits, there are also potential risks and challenges involved. One of the primary concerns is the legal and tax implications associated with setting up and managing a trust. For instance, the trust may be subject to the generation-skipping transfer tax (GSTT) if the trust beneficiaries belong to a generation lower than the grantor’s.

It is also essential to ensure that the trust is set up correctly to avoid any potential legal conflicts. This may require the assistance of an experienced trust attorney who is familiar with the intricacies involved in setting up a life insurance trust. In addition, an improperly structured trust may lead to unintended tax consequences, resulting in higher tax liabilities for the beneficiaries.

Control Limitations

Another potential challenge of a life insurance trust is the limitation of control that the grantor has over the trust and insurance policy. Once a life insurance policy has been transferred to the trust, the grantor relinquishes control, and it is under the trustee’s authority. This significantly reduces the grantor’s ability to make changes to the policy, such as altering beneficiaries or modifying premium payments.

Furthermore, since the trust is irrevocable, the grantor cannot dissolve or amend the trust without consent from all the beneficiaries. This inflexibility may be a point of concern for some individuals, particularly those who wish to maintain control of their life insurance policy and assets.

Risks and ChallengesExample
Legal and Tax ImplicationsGeneration-skipping transfer tax (GSTT)
 Unintended tax consequences
Control LimitationsLimited ability to change policy
 Inability to dissolve the trust

In conclusion, it is crucial to consider the potential risks and challenges associated with a life insurance trust before deciding to establish one. The legal and tax implications, as well as the limited control over trust assets, may not be ideal for everyone and should be carefully weighed against the benefits that may be gained from a trust.


  1. LegalZoom 2

  2. Investopedia 2

  3. Guardian Life 2

  4. AllLaw – What is a Life Insurance Trust?