Trust Owned Life Insurance (TOLI) Year End Review for 2018

First, we want to thank all ITM TwentyFirst clients for another remarkable year of growth. Without the support of our partners at banks, trust companies, family offices, and law firms across the country, we could not sustain the growth that has made us the largest manager of in-force life insurance in the country.  So, thank you for that.

One reason for our growth over the years has been the quality of our team. From the beginning, we have focused on internal education to provide our staff with an edge in the market, and over the years we have also trained peers and regulators through our outreach programs.  In 2018, we released a free PDF entitled the TOLI Handbook, the culmination of over a decade of real-world insight translated into a guide for the management and administration of TOLI trusts. The PDF is available for free at TOLIHandbook.com.

We at ITM TwentyFirst have always listened to our clients.  We started by creating a software program that TOLI trustees could use to manage policies. When clients asked if we could do more, we created the Managed Solution, total outsourcing of TOLI trust administration and policy tracking and remediation.  In the last few years, we heard from clients looking to offload a portion or all of their ILITs to a firm that would not compete with them in other areas and in 2018 we started the Trust Owned Life Insurance Company (https://lifeinsurancetrustco.com/) the only trust company in the US focused on life insurance trusts.  Our initial year has been very promising, and we look forward to helping trustees deal with this challenging asset. 

The biggest news in the TOLI industry this year? It had to be the changes in the estate tax laws brought about by the signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by President Trump. The law raised the federal estate tax exemption from $5.49 million to $11.18 million and dramatically lowered the number of estates subject to the federal estate tax. It is estimated that with the higher exemption amount less than one of every 1,000 estates will subject to the tax. (1)

This will mean more work for a TOLI trustee who, besides managing a policy, may now have to justify its value to a grantor.  A savvy trustee will explain to the client that the estate tax law changes made the policy in the trust more – not less – valuable.  If the grantor no longer needs the policy to pay estate taxes, that just means that more of the benefit is going to the beneficiaries – and wasn’t that the goal in the first place? 

Some grantors will still want to make changes – perhaps lower the death benefit or limit the gifting that must occur going forward.  This will mean more remediation services will be required for a TOLI portfolio and we have found this is the weakness in many TOLI trustee service platforms.  Having a life insurance expert on staff will be a necessity going forward unless you outsource that job.  Remember that even if the grantor no longer thinks they need as much death benefit – or any death benefit – your job, actually your responsibility as a trustee, will still be to maximize the asset in the trust.

Another area we have seen trustees slip is policy replacement analysis.  Some agents are using the changes in the estate tax as a marketing tool to engage grantors and recommend a change to the policy in their trust.  The sale of permanent life insurance in the estate planning market has dropped. LIMRA, an industry organization, reported that the total number of policies sold market wide dropped by 3% in the 1st quarter of 2018.  The biggest drop was in guaranteed universal life (24%), a policy often used in estate planning.  Variable and index universal life policies saw gains, but only because the industry has shifted its marketing from death benefit sales to income retirement sales and these policies are being touted as excellent vehicles for that use. (2)  Agents that have focused on the estate planning market are simply not selling the volume of new policies they have in the past and have redirected efforts to replace existing policies.  Throughout this year – in blogs and education programs – we have pointed out “bad” replacement efforts we have caught.  For one brought to us by a prospect for review two years after the fact, we could do nothing, and he wound up writing a high five-figure check to make the client whole.  The prospect is now a client of our Managed Solution.      

One hopeful sign – the clamor among the states and associations for a Best Interest Standard.  New York has led the charge with a regulation that would require agents to provide “the product that best reflects the customer’s interest,” not “what is most profitable to the seller.” The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board already has standards in place that all CFP designees act with “honesty” and “integrity,” always “in the client’s best interest,” placing the interests of the client above the interests of the CFP. (3)

One area we have seen increased activities this year is the life settlement market.  The sales of life insurance in the secondary market has been trending up in the last few years, and though 2018 statistics are not in the conversations we have had with those in that market lead us to believe that sales will be up again.  The changes in the estate tax have had a positive effect on sales and a change in the taxation of a policy for a seller has also helped.  In the past, a seller of a policy would pay taxes on the difference between the cost basis and the sales price – but there was a twist.  Since 2009, tax laws made the seller subtract the cumulative cost of insurance charges assessed against the policy from the cost basis creating a higher tax bill.  The new tax law did away with that, reducing the tax burden on those who sell their policy.    

Cost of insurance (COI) increases continued in 2018 with well-known carriers like John Hancock and Lincoln National raising costs on legacy policies.  We reported on several court cases filed against carriers that had raised their costs and in each case the carrier had to “give back” some of the extra charges, though whether it was enough to keep others from raising costs remains to be seen.

We at ITM TwentyFirst are grateful for a challenging, but eventful year, one that has seen the company grow dramatically.  We now have locations in four cities and cover the country from coast to coast. Our product line is expanding, and our company has grown to over 150 team members while still keeping in place the high service level standards we are known for.

We are grateful for the opportunities ahead of us and again thank you for your trust and your business. 

  1. Only 1,700 Estates Would Owe Estate Tax in 2018 Under the TCJA, Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center, December 6, 2017, https://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxvox/only-1700-estates-would-owe-estate-tax-2018-under-tcja
  2. LIMRA: U.S. Individual Life Insurance Sales Decline in First Quarter 2018, insurancenewsnet.com, June 4, 2018
  3. New York State Proposes “Best Interest” Standard in Sale of Life Insurance and Annuities, ITM TwentyFirst Blog, February 9, 2018