When President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 in December that doubled the threshold for estate taxes, the natural assumption was that estate planning – and life insurance’s place in it – was no longer relevant for a majority of clients.
After all, only a miniscule percentage of U.S. households have more than $11.18 million per person or $22.36 million per couple, leaving them still exposed to federal estate taxes.
But the need for quality estate planning has not gone away, and remains important to the high net worth market whether they meet the threshold or not – and particularly so for those residing where there is still a state tax.
In many cases, life insurance may no longer be needed to pay the federal estate tax, but it remains a valuable resource that clients with coverage will want to keep in force – especially as the new tax law is scheduled to sunset by 2026, and there’s no guarantee that lower thresholds won’t return.
Insurance Selling wanted to check in with some veteran producers who handle estate planning for their clients to see how the new tax law is impacting their practice, and get some general insight on how they have succeeded in carving out a niche in estate planning. So we turned to the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT), where three highly experienced members graciously took the time to answer questions about the state of the estate planning market from Insurance Selling Editor Brian Anderson.
Question #1: Client reaction to the tax bill
With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 doubling exemptions to about $11.2 million per person or $22.4 million for couples (at least until 2026), have your estate planning clients been proactive about wanting to re-examine their plans?
Tom Archer: I feel that it is always my responsibility to let our clients know what is going on as far as taxes, estate planning and business succession. Regardless of the ever-changing tax law, I always take a proactive rather than reactive approach. I review our clients’ planning annually as a rule of thumb.
Question #2 Tax bill impact on producers
In what other ways has passage of the tax bill impacted your practice so far, and do you anticipate (further?) changes will be needed as a result of the new environment? Is there a move toward another specialty?
Archer: My practice has not been impacted in the least. The increase in exemption does not really affect my clients since they are on the wealthier side. However, I’m sure this does affect advisors who have a less wealthy client base.
Question #3 Clients keeping policies?
Even if the estate tax is no longer relevant for many clients, do you think many will keep existing insurance policies anyway because they are good policies that still protect assets?
Archer: I feel that a good life insurance policy is mostly always worth holding on to. Regardless of taxes, some beneficiary whether it be a person or a trust for the family will receive at some point an amount of tax-free money at discounted dollars relative to the premiums they have paid. Furthermore, insurability as far as health goes should not be taken for granted. There are a lot of people who want life insurance but cannot qualify medically. Realizing that life insurance is only a financial tool, but does what no other financial tool can do is important. Nothing can duplicate it. For these reasons most people should or will hold on to existing policies.
Question #4: Best practical idea
From a sales, marketing/prospecting, or practice management standpoint, what’s the best practical idea you have instituted lately that has had a positive impact on your business?
Archer: Strangely enough, I have never marketed over my 30 plus years in this business yet have always been successful. My philosophy is that if you do great work and I mean great work, people will find a path to your door. I pride myself and my company on the fact that we do our job to the point of perfection.
Question #5 What keeps you awake at night?
As you look ahead, what concerns do you have about the estate planning market – anything keeping you awake at night?
Archer: Nothing keeps me awake at night. My philosophy has always been, “I don’t go away, I adapt.” Also, the estate planning laws have constantly been changing for decades and most people plan as if there will be some type of death tax.
Question #6 What would you do differently?
As you look at your own experience in this market, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
Archer: I would not change one single thing over my career and have no regrets of how we evolved to where we are. I have given everything to this business and have been paid back in spades. The business has given me a great life and I have learned and continue to learn so much from so many people. I have also had the good fortune to travel the world whether it be for clients or on motivational speaking tours. All in all, it has been a great ride but we have a lot more to do.