Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

An Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is a specialized estate planning tool that offers significant benefits for high-net-worth individuals and families, by removing life insurance policies from your taxable estate. An ILIT helps minimize estate taxes and provides financial protection for beneficiaries.

This guide will explore the intricacies of ILITs, their benefits, and the considerations you should be aware of when setting one up.


An ILIT is an irrevocable trust designed to hold life insurance policies. Once established, the grantor cannot amend or dissolve the trust, ensuring that the life insurance proceeds are excluded from the taxable estate. This provides significant tax benefits and protects the proceeds from creditors and other claims.

What is an ILIT?

An ILIT is a type of trust that owns life insurance policies. The trust is irrevocable, meaning it cannot be changed or terminated without the beneficiaries’ consent. The grantor transfers ownership of the life insurance policy to the ILIT, and the trustee manages the policy and ensures that the proceeds are distributed according to the grantor’s wishes upon their death.

How Does an ILIT Work?

An ILIT involves three primary parties: the grantor, the trustee, and the beneficiaries. The grantor creates the trust and transfers a life insurance policy to it. The trustee, who cannot be the grantor, manages the trust and pays the insurance premiums using funds provided by the grantor. Upon the grantor’s death, the trustee distributes the proceeds to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.

Funded vs. Unfunded ILITs

ILITs can be funded or unfunded. A funded ILIT holds income-producing assets that pay the insurance premiums, while an unfunded ILIT relies on annual contributions from the grantor to cover premium costs.

Benefits of an ILIT

  1. Minimizing Estate Taxes: One of the primary benefits of an ILIT is the reduction of estate taxes. When a life insurance policy is owned by an ILIT, the proceeds are not included in the grantor’s taxable estate, potentially saving a significant amount in estate taxes.
  2. Providing Liquidity: An ILIT can provide liquidity to pay estate taxes and other expenses. This can prevent the forced sale of assets, such as a family business or real estate, ensuring that these assets can be passed on to beneficiaries intact.
  3. Protecting Assets: The assets within an ILIT are protected from creditors and legal judgments. This ensures that the life insurance proceeds reach the intended beneficiaries without being diminished by external financial risks.

Setting Up an ILIT

  1. Choosing a Trustee: Selecting a trustee is a critical decision when setting up an ILIT. The trustee should be someone trustworthy and competent in managing financial matters. Often, a professional trustee or financial institution is chosen to ensure the trust is administered correctly.
  2. Drafting the Trust Agreement: The trust agreement outlines how the trust will be managed and how the proceeds will be distributed. It is essential to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to draft this document to ensure it meets all legal requirements and achieves your estate planning goals.

Funding the Trust

Once the ILIT is established, the grantor can transfer an existing life insurance policy to the trust or have the trust purchase a new policy. It is important to complete this transfer properly to avoid including the policy in the grantor’s taxable estate.

Tax Implications

  1. Estate Tax Exclusion: The primary tax benefit of an ILIT is the exclusion of the life insurance proceeds from the grantor’s taxable estate. This can significantly reduce the estate tax burden on the grantor’s heirs.
  2. Gift Tax Considerations: Contributions to an ILIT to pay insurance premiums are considered gifts to the beneficiaries. To qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion, the trustee must notify the beneficiaries of their right to withdraw these contributions, a process known as issuing a Crummey letter.

Common Uses of ILITs

  1. Charitable Giving: An ILIT can designate a charity as a beneficiary, allowing for substantial charitable contributions upon the grantor’s death while also providing estate tax benefits.
  2. Special Needs Planning: An ILIT can be structured to provide for special needs beneficiaries without jeopardizing their eligibility for government assistance programs.
  3. Business Succession Planning: For business owners, an ILIT can hold a life insurance policy that funds a buy-sell agreement, ensuring a smooth transition of business ownership and providing necessary liquidity.
  4. Educational Funding: An ILIT can be set up to disburse funds for educational expenses, ensuring beneficiaries have the resources for higher education.

Pros and Cons of ILITs


  1. Estate Tax Reduction: Removes the life insurance policy from the taxable estate, reducing estate taxes.
  2. Asset Protection: Shields the policy proceeds from creditors and legal claims.
  3. Control Over Distributions: Allows the grantor to specify how and when beneficiaries receive the proceeds.


  1. Irrevocability: Once established, the trust cannot be changed or terminated without the beneficiaries’ consent.
  2. Complexity: Setting up and maintaining an ILIT requires careful planning and adherence to legal requirements.
  3. Costs: Legal and administrative costs can be significant, particularly for complex estates.

Potential Pitfalls and Challenges

  1. Retaining Incidents of Ownership: The grantor must relinquish all incidents of ownership in the policy, such as the ability to change beneficiaries or borrow against the policy. Failure to do so can result in the policy being included in the grantor’s taxable estate.
  2. Proper Administration: To maintain the tax benefits, the ILIT must be properly administered. This includes issuing Crummey letters and ensuring that all contributions and premium payments are handled correctly.
  3. Legal and Tax Advice: Given the complexity of ILITs, it is essential to seek competent legal and tax advice to ensure the trust is set up and maintained correctly.

You can book a free strategy session with us at Seventi102 Life. We will be glad to be of assistance and help you set up an maintain your ILIT properly to ensure you make the most of it.

LIT vs. Other Trusts

Revocable Trusts

Unlike an ILIT, a revocable trust can be amended or terminated by the grantor at any time. However, assets in a revocable trust are not excluded from the grantor’s taxable estate.

Charitable Remainder Trusts

A charitable remainder trust provides income to the grantor or other beneficiaries for a specified period, with the remainder going to a designated charity. While both ILITs and charitable remainder trusts offer estate tax benefits, they serve different purposes and have different structures.

Case Studies

High Net Worth Individual

Consider a high-net-worth individual with a $10 million estate and a $5 million life insurance policy. Without an ILIT, their estate tax liability could be significant. By transferring the policy to an ILIT, the death benefits are excluded from the taxable estate, potentially saving millions in estate taxes.

Business Owner

A business owner sets up an ILIT to hold a life insurance policy that funds a buy-sell agreement. This ensures that the business can be passed on smoothly without the need to sell assets to pay estate taxes.


An ILIT is a powerful estate planning tool that can help high-net-worth individuals and families reduce estate taxes, protect assets, and provide for beneficiaries. However, setting up and maintaining an ILIT requires careful planning and adherence to legal requirements. By understanding the benefits and challenges of an ILIT, you can determine whether it aligns with your estate planning goals.

Indexed Universal Life (IUL) insurance is a unique financial product that combines the benefits of life insurance with the potential for cash value accumulation linked to the performance of a market index, such as the S&P 500.

IUL policies come packed with a lot of other unique features that can help with financial planning. These features can potentially provide a safety net for you and for your loved ones. You should check out this video on how to safeguard your future and that of your loved ones against unforseen circumstances like job loss or illnesses.


Question 1: What is the primary benefit of an ILIT?

Answer: The primary benefit of an ILIT is the exclusion of life insurance proceeds from the grantor’s taxable estate, which can significantly reduce estate taxes.

Question 2: Can the terms of an ILIT be changed once it is established?

Answer: No, an ILIT is irrevocable, meaning its terms cannot be changed or terminated without the consent of all beneficiaries.

Question 3: How does an ILIT provide liquidity for estate taxes?

Answer: An ILIT can provide liquidity by using the life insurance proceeds to pay estate taxes and other expenses, preventing the need to sell assets.

Question 4: What is a Crummey letter, and why is it important?

Answer: A Crummey letter notifies beneficiaries of their right to withdraw contributions to the trust, allowing these contributions to qualify for the annual gift tax exclusion.

Question 5: Can an ILIT be used for purposes other than reducing estate taxes?

Answer: Yes, an ILIT can also be used for charitable giving, special needs planning, business succession planning, and other estate planning goals.

We hope you gained much from this article. Our previous article was on IUL as a wealth transfer tool. You can check it out as it contains a lot of valuable information.

One thought on “Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)

  1. Learning about the benefits of Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILITs) has provided me with key insights into effective estate planning. The ability to minimize estate taxes and ensure liquidity to cover expenses without liquidating valuable assets is incredibly useful. The protection from creditors and legal judgments further ensures that my beneficiaries receive the full intended benefit. These aspects of ILITs are now essential components of my strategy to secure my family’s financial future.

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