Every family should have a life insurance policy on at least one of the financial providers. A policy should always be in place in case one of the primary breadwinners passes away so that the family will be able to support itself if no other source of income is available after the breadwinner dies.

Estate or “Death” taxes can be as high as 55% when the insurance policyholder dies. Many families cannot afford to pay these steep taxes and still maintain the lifestyle that they are accustomed to. Therefore, we have compiled a few tips to help ensure that your family can maximize the benefits they receive from your life insurance policy – and avoid giving so much of it to the government.

First of all, you should know that a portion of your estate will be given to your beneficiaries with a tax exclusion. The number of dollars covered by the exclusion each year varies, but here’s a brief overview: in 2004 and 2005, the exclusion was $1.5 million per person. From 2006 through 2008, the exclusion is $2 million, and, in 2009, the exclusion is $3.5 million. The estate tax is repealed for the year 2010, but the tax returns with an exclusion of $1 million in the year 2011. Now, that can get confusing!

Because the government can take so much of your estate for taxes, it’s important to shield as much as possible with the use of a variety of Trusts. One such Trust is the Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust, otherwise known as the ILIT.

When you establish an ILIT, you will name a trustee to manage that trust. Your trustee can be your financial advisor or a beneficiary. Your trustee will purchase a life insurance contract on your life. Upon your death, the policy’s death benefit will provide liquidity of the assets in your Trust.

With your ILIT, you can control how the estate is divided and spent. Having the ability to control your own estate, post-mortem, may prove to be especially helpful if you have young adults who are going to receive a sizeable sum of money. You can, for example, enumerate which funds will be spent for education, which for costs of living, and which for other activities. Thus, you can allocate portions of your estate for any activities you wish.

You can also transfer ownership of the life insurance policy you already own. However, there are complications that may arise from the transfer. You will want to consult a qualified attorney to ensure that you fully understand how the system works. For example, if you die within three (3) years of transferring ownership of your existing policy, the life insurance policy will be taxed as part of your estate.

With the right help, figuring out how to handle life insurance (and your estate in general) doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Consult a qualified attorney for more information on how to set up your ILIT or other Trusts so that your beneficiaries can receive the most benefit from your assets.