It may sound like an easy question to tackle but it may be more complicated than you think. The biggest problem with life insurance is that it involves emotion which is not always the best way to make important decisions. It's not easy to look into the future and envision a life that has not been lived. For most there is no context for the circumstances that may arise when you die. In other words, how do you know what life will look like when you die if you have never (and will never) live that life?
When you think of life insurance, you probably think of something you need when you are younger — when you have dependents and more debts. Many experts have argued that you should only buy life insurance when you need it and as a result, they suggest that you should only buy term insurance while you are young because you will not need it later in life. Although there is some truth to this general rule of thumb, it's a little too simplistic.
Insurance in retirement
Just like cereal and milk or strawberries and whipped cream, life insurance and estate planning go really well together. As we said, the most obvious reason why people buy life insurance is to protect their dependents. However, there are other situations where life insurance in retirement might make sense.
- To pay off debts. It used to be that retirement happened only if you paid off all your debts. However, we live in times where debt is abundant and in many cases, Canadians are retiring with more debt than in the past. This debt comes in many different forms like lines of credit, credit cards and even mortgages. If you are carrying debt in retirement, then life insurance can be used to pay off those debts when you die instead of having to liquidate assets (sometimes at times when you do not want to sell). Alternatively if you have enough liquid savings or assets to pay off debts to the estate, then life insurance may not be necessary.
- To cover taxes at death. When you die, there may be a substantial tax bill to the estate as a result of income from RRSPs, capital gains from investment portfolios, real estate and other sources of income. Life insurance can be used to ensure there is money in the estate to pay for this tax liability. Keep in mind that the government will still get paid their share of tax. You can't avoid that. Life insurance just means your beneficiaries will get more because the tax bill is paid with life insurance proceeds.
- To cover final expenses like funeral expenses and legal fees. Every estate has expenses but where will the money come from to pay for these expenses? It is crucial to ensure there is enough liquid cash to pay for fees and expenses. For some, life insurance can be a great way to inject liquid cash into the estate.
- To provide income for your dependents. Generally, the plan in retirement should be to not have dependents but these days kids are staying home longer. Or if they do leave, sometimes they are coming back home later in life and occasionally they could be bringing children with them. The more common dependent in retirement may be your spouse (not the kids). Will your spouse need your income when you pass away? If they need some or all of your income to make ends meet, then you are a likely candidate for life insurance in retirement unless you have significant savings or assets to leave behind. Before you jump the gun on this questions remember the best way to think about this is to simply think of yourself as the survivor.
- To leave a larger estate for your beneficiaries. The standard joke in retirement planning is the notion that the ideal strategy is to spend your money so you can die broke. The flaw with this strategy, of course, is you never know when you are going to die. Most people never die broke because running out of money is the biggest fear we face in life. In fact, leaving money to your spouse, kids, grandkids or others is not a bad thing. Leaving money represents relationships and creates legacies. Life insurance is a great way to pass money on to the people you love as it passes tax free.
- To equalize your estate. Life insurance can create a pool of cash to allow your executor to make things equal for your beneficiaries when some things can't be divided. One common example is where real estate is involved. For example, you might have a family cottage that is really only being used by one of three children. If the cottage is willed to the three kids, there is a good chance the one child that uses the cottage will have to buy out the other two siblings but where will the cash come from? Life insurance is a great way to equalize the estate by giving the cottage to the child that wants it and giving cash through a life insurance policy to the other two children.
- To help corporations and business arrangements remain viable. There are many uses for life insurance and estate planning when a business is involved. Every situation is unique and should involve a team of professionals.
- Provide for charities. Most often when we donate money to charities, we do it in the form of a direct contribution. Typically, someone knocks on your door or solicits you through the phone. Sometimes, we give a little by leaving our change at the cash register or even by attending a fundraiser of some sort. Charitable gifting with life insurance is much different. The most attractive advantage using life insurance is that it allows one to make a much larger gift to a charity. In addition to the goodwill, giving to a charity through your estate can save a lot of money in taxes.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive but it does represent some of the key uses of life insurance in the estate planning process. Life insurance is one of the few assets that transfers to beneficiaries completely tax free. As a result, life insurance can be a great tool in the estate planning process.