How to Use Life Insurance for International Estate Planning: A Comprehensive Guide

8 min read

Life insurance stands as an important tool for estate planning, offering not only peace of mind but also a strategic avenue for securing the financial future of loved ones. It serves as a contract between an individual and an insurer, promising the payment of a death benefit to designated beneficiaries upon the individual’s demise. This article delves into the intricacies of life insurance, highlighting its critical role in mitigating financial burdens during challenging times. By exploring various types of life insurance for estate planning, you will gain valuable insights into how life insurance can be effectively integrated into your estate planning strategies to ensure a stable and secure future for your family.

Table of Contents

What is Life Insurance?

Life insurance is an agreement between an individual and an insurance company, wherein the insurer pledges to disburse a predetermined sum of money, known as the death benefit, to designated beneficiaries upon the insured individual’s demise. This payment aims to mitigate the financial impact that the beneficiaries would face due to the loss of the insured. In return for this benefit, the policyholder commits to paying regular premiums to the insurance company, either for a set duration or until reaching a certain amount.

Understanding and integrating the right type of life insurance into your estate planning can yield substantial benefits and provide reassurance for both you and your loved ones in the event of an untimely death. With a variety of life insurance policies available, investing time to comprehend the distinct types and their appropriate applications is crucial. Each type of life insurance caters to different needs and scenarios, making it essential to choose the one that aligns best with your financial goals and estate planning strategies.

Types of Life Insurance that can be Used for International Estate Planning

Term Insurance

Term insurance is essentially a type of life insurance that provides coverage for a specified period or “term.” It’s characterised by its simplicity and directness, where the policyholder pays an annual premium that typically increases with age. The core function of term insurance is to offer a death benefit—a payout to the designated beneficiaries—if the policy is active at the time of the insured’s death. This requires the policyholder to consistently pay the premiums to keep the insurance in force.
One of the defining features of term insurance is that it does not accumulate any cash value over time. All the premiums paid are solely for covering the cost of the insurance, meaning you’re paying for a specific amount of coverage over a given period, without any investment component. The premiums are for a year’s worth of coverage, mirroring the structure of other forms of protection like auto or home insurance, where the focus is purely on providing a financial safety net rather than serving as a savings or investment vehicle.

There are different varieties of term insurance available to cater to various needs. These include policies with declining death benefits—where the payout decreases over time but premiums remain constant—and policies where the death benefit remains fixed while the premium increases. This flexibility allows individuals to choose a policy that best matches their coverage needs and financial situation, making term insurance a versatile option for those seeking straightforward, no-frills life insurance coverage.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole or universal life insurance offers a comprehensive approach by blending the protective element of term insurance with an integral savings component. This type of insurance is designed to provide not just a death benefit but also a mechanism for financial growth through cash value accumulation. The “savings” portion of these policies allows policyholders to build up a cash reserve over time, which can be accessed through loans at a specified interest rate or withdrawn upon policy termination.

Given its dual nature, whole or universal life insurance policies come with higher premium costs compared to pure term insurance. This is because a part of the premium is diverted towards funding the savings plan, alongside covering the cost of the insurance protection. The variety within whole life insurance products caters to a wide range of needs and preferences, offering different levels of flexibility in terms of premium payments, investment options, and the ability to adjust coverage.
This combination of long-term financial planning and insurance coverage makes whole or universal life insurance a suitable option for individuals looking to secure a death benefit while simultaneously accumulating cash value that can support financial needs or goals in the future.

Joint Life Insurance

Joint life insurance is a specialised policy designed to insure two people under one agreement, delivering a single death benefit upon the death of one of the insured individuals. There are two primary forms of joint life insurance available, both providing a single death benefit but differing in the timing of the payout. Each type is tailored to unique payout circumstances, ensuring that beneficiaries receive financial support according to the specific terms of the policy.

First-to-die Insurance

First-to-die joint life insurance policies are designed so that upon the death of one of the insured, the surviving policyholder is granted the death benefit. This financial influx aims to assist the survivor during the challenging period following their partner’s demise. Once the death benefit is paid out, the survivor is left without coverage under this joint policy. Certain insurers might offer the option to transition the joint policy into a single policy, maintaining the original death benefit, although this often comes at the cost of increased premiums. It’s important for prospective buyers to inquire about options for future policy conversion and the specifics of the payout process.

Second-to-die Insurance

Second-to-die, or survivorship, life insurance differs in that the death benefit is only paid out after both policyholders have died. This setup means that neither of the insured will benefit directly from the policy during their lifetime; instead, the death benefit is designated for the beneficiaries of the joint policyholders, typically to support estate planning objectives. For instance, adult children might use the death benefit to manage estate taxes following the passing of both parents. Since the policy remains active until the second policyholder’s death, the surviving policyholder must continue premium payments to keep the policy in force. Given its structure, second-to-die life insurance is generally not recommended for young couples seeking immediate financial security for the surviving spouse.

Indexed Universal Life Insurance

Indexed Universal Life Insurance (IUL) is a form of permanent life coverage that shares commonalities with traditional universal life insurance. What sets it apart is the way interest is earned on the cash value component. Instead of a fixed interest rate, the cash value growth is linked to the performance of a market index, without direct exposure to market risks. This means the policy’s cash value can increase based on index performance, though it’s not directly invested in the stock market. The cash value and death benefit may be accessed through withdrawals and loans, but unpaid amounts reduce both values. IUL policies offer the flexibility to adjust premium allocations to suit changing needs throughout the policyholder’s life.

Variable Universal Life Insurance

Variable Universal Life Insurance (VUL) offers permanent insurance protection with the added benefit of cash value accumulation through a selection of investment options. This type of policy allows for cash value growth potential that aligns with the performance of the chosen investments, which can vary across different risk levels. The potential for higher returns comes with the risk of losing cash value due to market volatility. Policyholders who are comfortable with investment risk might find VUL appealing for its growth potential. Like IUL, VUL policies provide the option to borrow or withdraw from the cash value, impacting the policy’s death benefit and cash value if not repaid. Additionally, VUL policies offer the ability to reallocate funds among investment choices, catering to the policyholder’s changing financial goals and needs over time.

Why Use Life Insurance Policies as an Estate Planning Tool?

Life insurance plays a pivotal role in estate planning, offering security, liquidity, and functioning as a non-probate asset. Here’s how each benefit contributes to an estate plan:

Liquidity

Families often face immediate financial burdens upon the loss of a loved one, including funeral expenses, legal fees, and property maintenance costs. Moreover, estate taxes, which are due within nine months of the decedent’s passing, can pose a significant challenge without readily available funds. For foreign clients owning assets in the US, life insurance becomes an essential tool for covering potential estate tax liabilities. Given the low estate tax exemption for foreigners, life insurance proceeds can provide the necessary funds to settle such taxes, ensuring the deceased’s assets aren’t heavily taxed.

Security

The assurance that family members will remain financially stable after a breadwinner’s death is invaluable. Life insurance proceeds can cover essential expenses, including childcare, medical bills, and mortgage payments, providing a financial safety net during difficult times. Furthermore, life insurance payouts are typically tax-free and often exempt from US or state estate taxes, offering an efficient means to secure a family’s financial future.

Non-Probate Asset

Life insurance is recognised as a non-probate asset, meaning its proceeds are directly transferred to the beneficiaries without undergoing probate or administration proceedings. This direct transfer allows beneficiaries quick access to the funds, usually within 30-60 days of claim submission, bypassing the need for court involvement unless the estate itself is named as the policy beneficiary. This characteristic of life insurance ensures that beneficiaries can swiftly receive support without the delays and complexities associated with probate proceedings.


Incorporating life insurance into an estate plan provides not only a financial safeguard but also peace of mind, knowing that immediate and future financial obligations can be met, and that loved ones will have the support they need in the absence of the insured.

Common Life Insurance Estate Planning Mistakes

Integrating a life insurance policy into an estate plan requires careful consideration to avoid common pitfalls. Here are key mistakes to watch out for and strategies for ensuring your life insurance serves its intended purpose effectively:

Insufficient or Inappropriate Coverage

The foundation of effective estate planning with life insurance lies in selecting a policy that aligns with your family’s needs and financial goals. It’s critical to assess your current financial situation, future objectives, and the requirements of your dependents to determine the appropriate type and amount of coverage.

Naming the Estate as Beneficiary

Designating your estate as the beneficiary can lead to a complex probate process for your family, potentially delaying the distribution of assets. Opting for trusts or specific individuals as beneficiaries can streamline asset transfer, bypassing probate and ensuring a more efficient allocation of your life insurance proceeds.

Failing to Review Policies Regularly

Life events such as marriage, divorce, and the birth of a child can significantly alter your insurance needs. Regularly reviewing and updating your policy ensures that it remains aligned with your evolving life circumstances and estate planning goals.

Allowing Policies to Lapse

Policy lapses can leave you unprotected and possibly incur high costs to reinstate coverage. Setting up automatic payments is a straightforward solution to prevent lapses due to missed payments, ensuring continuous coverage.

Not Comparing Policies

Your needs and the insurance market can change, potentially offering opportunities for better rates or more suitable coverage. Periodically shopping for policies allows you to adapt to new conditions and optimise your estate planning strategy.

Lack of Communication with Family

Discussing your estate planning intentions and the details of your life insurance policy with family members is crucial. Clear communication can prevent confusion and conflict after your passing, ensuring your wishes are understood and followed.
By being mindful of these common mistakes and adopting a proactive approach to life insurance within your estate plan, you can provide substantial security and peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones.

Key Takeaways: Life Insurance in Estate Planning is a Must

From offering immediate liquidity to ensuring a non-probate transfer of assets, life insurance encapsulates a multifaceted tool tailored to meet diverse estate planning needs. Whether you’re considering term insurance for its simplicity or a whole life policy for its cash value benefits, the importance of making an informed decision cannot be overstated. 

At PBL Law Group, we understand the intricacies of integrating life insurance into your estate plan. Our dedicated team is committed to guiding you through each step, ensuring your estate planning aligns with your unique objectives and provides the utmost protection for those you hold dear. For personalised advice, contact us today!

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Picture of Authored By<br>Raea Khan

Authored By
Raea Khan

Director Lawyer, PBL Law Group

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