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Life Insurance and Divorce: Protecting Your Family’s Future

Sometimes in life, things don’t work out as planned. One of the most trying examples is when a couple decides they can’t make their marriage work and, subsequently, files for divorce. Divorce can take a significant financial and emotional toll on a couple, their children, and other family members. In the midst of immediate financial and legal concerns, couples also need to consider ways to help protect their individual financial futures and that of their children’s in the event of death. Life insurance may offer a solution.

Let’s take a look at several different scenarios. After divorce, if the non-custodial parent who is paying alimony and/or child support were to die, then the custodial parent may be unable to maintain the children’s lifestyle or save for a future college education. On the other hand, if the custodial parent were to die, the non-custodial parent may be unable to afford childcare expenses. Consequently, divorcing couples may want to consider making life insurance policies part of the divorce decree.

The custodial parent may want to purchase a life insurance policy on the non-custodial parent, but if not, transferring ownership and beneficiary arrangements on an existing policy may be another option. The custodial parent may request alimony or child support increases to cover the cost of policy premiums. If the non-custodial parent remains the policy owner, the divorce decree can include arrangements to ensure that the custodial parent is named as the irrevocable beneficiary, and that he or she receives ongoing proof that the payments are made and the policy remains in force.

The non-custodial parent may wish to keep the policies he or she already has to protect other financial interests. To ensure protection for children from a previous marriage, the non-custodial parent may consider purchasing a new policy on his or her life, naming the former spouse as the owner and beneficiary. If this is done before or during the divorce proceedings, gift tax will not be owed. If the custodial parent is the policy owner, premiums may be tax deductible as alimony.

For existing policies, it is important to remember that the insurance company must be notified of any beneficiary changes. A will cannot be used for this purpose. In addition, should the insured remarry and the policy names the “husband” or “wife” of the insured as the beneficiary, the new spouse may receive the proceeds. If the insured does not remarry and the same policy language is in force, then the proceeds may be paid to the secondary beneficiary. If the insured’s estate is named as the new beneficiary, insurance proceeds may be delayed by the probate process. If minor children are named as beneficiaries, additional problems may arise, as insurance companies generally do not pay minors directly. For this reason, you may want to consider creating a trust for minor children and naming the trust as the beneficiary of the policy proceeds.

Divorce is rarely easy, but with a well-planned strategy, the short- and long-term financial needs of your loved ones can be met. Since laws vary from state to state, be sure to consult with your team of qualified tax and legal professionals about your unique circumstances.

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