The Role of Insurance in Estate Planning

Estate planning is a crucial part of ensuring your assets are managed and distributed as per your wishes after your passing. One element of that planning is often insurance. While insurance can play a significant role in a good estate plan, it’s also essential to recognize when it may not be needed. Let’s explore how insurance can be incorporated into estate planning and the circumstances in which it might be considered unnecessary. We’ll start by outlining the key roles insurance can play in an estate plan.

6 Key Roles of Insurance in Estate Planning


  1. Protecting Family Finances: Life insurance is one of the primary ways insurance can be valuable in estate planning. It provides a financial safety net for your loved ones, ensuring they are adequately provided for in the event of your untimely death. The death benefit from a life insurance policy can help replace lost income, pay off debts, cover funeral expenses, and provide ongoing financial support to your family.
  2. Estate Liquidity: Another crucial role of insurance is to provide liquidity to an estate. Estate planning often involves the transfer of assets to beneficiaries, and if these assets are not easily liquidated, it may create financial challenges for the estate. The most common example of an illiquid asset is real estate, such as residential or commercial property, farmland, or industrial space. Other types of illiquid assets can include closely held business interests, partnerships, or collectibles. Life insurance can also be used to cover estate taxes, debts, and administrative expenses, ensuring that assets can be distributed without the need for a fire sale or other unfavorable measures.
  3. Equalizing Inheritances: In cases where an estate includes a family business or certain assets that are to be passed down to specific beneficiaries, insurance can help equalize inheritances. For example, if one child is inheriting a family business while another is not, a life insurance policy can provide the non-business inheritor with an equivalent value in cash.
  4. Charitable Planning: For those who wish to pass their estate to the heirs and who have charitable intent, life insurance can also be used as a tool to transfer certain assets to a charitable beneficiary tax-efficiently upon passing. An example would be naming a charitable organization as the beneficiary of a retirement asset and allowing funds to pass directly to charity without any tax liability to the organization (charitable organizations pay zero tax). Your heirs would then receive a tax-free death benefit from the life insurance as an inheritance that would have been heavily taxed otherwise had it come from the less tax-favorable accounts to beneficiaries. This estate planning technique leaves Uncle Sam entirely out of the equation.
  5. Minimizing Tax Liability: Insurance can also be used to reduce the tax liability associated with transferring assets to beneficiaries. For high-net-worth individuals, estate taxes can be substantial. Life insurance can be used to pay these taxes, ensuring that the beneficiaries receive the intended inheritance without a significant tax burden.
  6. Covering Long-Term Care Expenses: Long-term care insurance can also be considered a form of estate planning, especially when it comes to preserving assets. If you require extended care in your later years, this type of insurance can help cover the expenses, preventing your assets from being depleted rapidly. As a result, more of your estate can be preserved for your beneficiaries.

4 Times When Insurance May Not Benefit an Estate Plan


  1. Sufficient Liquid Assets: If you already have ample liquid assets to cover any estate-related expenses and to provide for your loved ones, the need for life insurance may be reduced. In such cases, insurance can become an additional financial burden without significant benefits.
  2. No Dependents or Beneficiaries: If you have no dependents or beneficiaries, or if your assets are intended to be donated to charitable organizations, the role of insurance diminishes. In these cases, the purpose of providing for loved ones is not a primary concern, and the charity can work directly with the executor or estate attorney to manage the transfer of funds.
  3. Challenged Financial Resources: For some individuals, insurance premiums can be costly, and the ongoing expense of insurance may not be practical. In other cases, insurance costs can simply become cost-prohibitive and work against a financial plan if advanced age or preexisting health conditions become factors in the underwriting process. Financial resources might not be limited, but the costs become impractical when considering the benefit of insurance.
  4. Already Have Sufficient Estate Planning: Some individuals may have already established comprehensive estate plans that adequately cover their objectives. In such cases, additional insurance may not be necessary, as the existing plan addresses their goals effectively. For example, an estate could be highly liquid, primarily contain assets that are already beneficiary-directed, and include language in the legal documents that fairly address the distribution of assets to heirs. These factors, along with an estate well within the federal estate tax exclusion amount, would likely not benefit from the use of life insurance.

When deciding whether to include life insurance in your plan, some of the factors to consider may include insurance costs, personal health profile, and the complexity of your estate. While some estate plans warrant the use of insurance, the cost to put a policy in place can sometimes be too excessive due to advanced age or your overall health. Similarly, a large yet liquid estate may not need insurance, while a smaller illiquid estate with a significant disparity in the value and types of property being passed down may require a complex life insurance strategy.

Ultimately, the decision to include insurance in your estate plan should be based on your specific financial situation, goals, and the needs of your loved ones. A wealth manager can help organize a team of qualified estate planning professionals and serve as a quarterback on your behalf to help determine the most suitable approach for your circumstances.