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Insuring Foreign Nationals: Changes in Underwriting Criteria Create New Planning Opportunities

Acquiring life insurance for foreign nationals has always been a difficult segment of the market. This is especially true for those who do not reside in the United States. As our economy continues to grow into one that is global in nature, we come into contact with individuals from all over the world who need help. Until recently, insuring these clients has been a daunting task, especially for individuals who are nonresident aliens. The market is changing, however, and some insurance carriers are recognizing the potential of this market and are taking a more global approach to underwriting life insurance for these individuals.

As it applies to the federal gift and estate tax regulations, the key is residency status. The United States levies the same transfer taxes on resident aliens as it does on U.S. citizens. For nonresident aliens, taxes are imposed at the regular estate tax rates, but only on their U.S. estate—real property owned in the United States and tangible personal property located within the country. The major problem for these clients is the amount of the estate tax exclusion amounts. While resident aliens can make use of the $5.12 million applicable exclusion amount (for 2012), nonresident aliens only enjoy a $13,000 lifetime estate tax credit, which equals an exclusion amount of approximately $60,000 (for 2012) in the U.S. based assets. Also significantly affected are spousal gifts and transfers. Gifts to a spouse who is a U.S. citizen fall under the unlimited marital deduction, and those gifts are not taxable. However, tax-free gifts to a noncitizen spouse are limited to an annual marital gift tax exclusion of $139,000.

So, how do you help clients and potential clients who are foreign nationals minimize or fund for these future tax liabilities? One strong strategy for estate tax planning has always been the use of life insurance. The problem has been issuing policies on foreign nationals, especially those who do not live in the U.S. Recently, a select few carriers have decided to embrace the global nature of today’s business environment and will consider these individuals for life insurance benefits.

In many cases involving foreign nationals (either residing or not residing in the U.S.), it may be possible to:

1.  Offer up to $10 million of life insurance coverage.

2.  Complete the medical exam outside of the U.S.

3.  Assist with the complex planning components of insuring resident or nonresident aliens.

Most importantly, these clients have never needed your help more. Recent changes to the gift and estate tax treatment of foreign nationals with assets held in the U.S. has placed an onerous potential estate tax on these assets. By helping these clients plan and fund for these taxes, you can play an integral role in their planning process.

Foreign nationals who want to accumulate and protect wealth, transfer assets to the next generation, and minimize transfer taxes must work with the proper advisors. They need professionals who understand the laws governing non–U.S. citizens, know how to avoid pitfalls, and make use of the very best planning techniques for the affluent members of this ever-growing group.

About Ron Roth

Ron Roth
Ron, a graduate of George Washington University (B.A. 1988, Political Science), has a life insurance practice and is the Director of Marketing & Producer Relations at M&M Brokerage Services Inc. in New York City. At M&M (an affiliate of National Financial Partners – NYSE:NFP), he markets products and services offered to top life insurance and financial services professionals across the country. Ron is a noted author whose articles can be found in many publications. In 2008, he published his first book, Invest In Your Life: Why Wall Street Wants You, which challenges the concept of Stranger Owned Life Insurance (STOLI) and shows how life insurance death benefits can be used as an asset class by individual investors. He can be contacted at 516-458-6545 or

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