Betty White’s Massive Estate Tax Problem (And How Life Insurance Fixes It!)

Betty White Estate Tax Problem and How Life Insurance Can Fix It
Kim Wilhelm CEO of Final Expense Direct Life Insurance
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Written by Kim Wilhelm

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Last Updated 24 May 2022

When a celebrity like Betty White passes away, many people wonder:

  • What was her net worth?
  • Did she leave any money to charity?
  • How much will her children get?

But as a life insurance agent, I always wonder about questions more pertinent to my industry, such as:

  • Did she have an estate plan?
  • How much will her estate owe in Federal taxes?
  • And did she have life insurance?

I've found the answers to some of these questions, and I must say, I was shocked to calculate the amount of taxes her estate will owe!

So, if you're a celebrity, a business owner, high-net worth individual, or simply interested in Betty White (who isn't?), stay tuned.  In this article, I'll reveal everything I found out about White's net worth, estate taxes, and how to side step an enormous tax debt burden.

Betty White Estate Tax Problem and How Life Insurance Can Fix It

Betty White's Net Worth

When evaluating an estate for potential federal estate taxation, you have to start with the individual's net worth at their passing.

According to many sources, Betty White's net worth was $75 million dollars.

Obviously, much of her earnings came from her long, illustrious career as an actress, comedian, author, and television show host.

Included in her net worth was her $5 million Brentwood mansion and over $10 million dollars of real estate holdings.

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Who Will Inherit Betty White's Estate?

Many people are surprised to learn that although White was married three times in her life, she never had chilren of her own.

She does have three step-children, however.

And while the details of her estate have not been announced, she probably left them a sizeable amount.

Vimbuzz recently reported that White supported several animal charities, donating millions of dollars to them, and reports there are rumors that she had left a large amount to them.

Unfortunately, the exact amount is unknown.

One very important note to make was that White was not married at the time of her death.  If she were, her estate could have passed to her spouse 100% estate tax free using the unlimited marital deduction.

As we'll see, this will become important in calculating the federal taxes her estate owes in the next section.

How Much Will Betty White's Estate Owe in Federal Estate Taxes?

Now that we've seen that White had an estimated net worth of $75 million dollars and that she was unmarried at the time of her passing, we can now calculate the taxes her estate will owe to the IRS.

We need a few things to arrive to this calculation:

  • Assumed amount left to charity
  • The 2021 Federal tax exemption amount 
  • The 2021 Federal estate tax rate 

Assuming Betty White Left Money to Charity

If White did, indeed, leave millions to animal protection projects, that would effectively reduce her taxable estate.

Let’s say she left $10 million to charity.

That would reduce her taxable estate - or gross taxable estate - to $65 million.

($75 million minus $10 million)

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2021 Federal Tax Exemption Amount

In 2021, the federal tax exemption was $11.7 million, meaning the first $11.7 million of her estate will not be subject to federal taxation.  

The exemption amount is actually a bit higher ($12,060,000 in 2022), but since White passed away on Dec. 31st, 2021, last year's exemption amount will apply.

Living in California, where there is no state death or state inheritance tax, we don’t need to factor that in.

Again, if we're assuming her gross taxable estate is $65 million, the first $11.7 million will be excluded from Federal taxation.  That would mean her estate will need to pay taxes on $53,300,000.

($65 million minus $11.7 million)

But how much would that cost?

For that we need to know the Federal estate tax rate.

2021 Federal Estate Tax Rate

In 2021, the top federal estate tax rate, which is charged for any amount over $1 million of taxable estate, was 40%.  

With this number, we can now calculate the Federal taxes White's estate may owe.

Based on the previous figure of $53,300,000 subject to Federal estate taxation, that would mean *Betty White’s estate would owe an incredible $21,320,000 of estate taxes to the IRS, due within 9 months after her death.

*Disclaimer - This is a Crude Estimate

I should note that this is a very loose calculation, applies to federal estate tax only, and does not take into account:

  • Any estate planning White may have done, such as setting up an irrevocable trust
  • Any income taxes due, for example on IRA’s or annuities
  • Gifts White may have made during her life exceeding the annual gift maximum which would have already reduced the size of her estate tax exemption
  • The actual amount of charitable gifts made by White - I calculated her taxes based on an estimated $10 million charitable gift
  • And many other factors
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How Life Insurance Could Pay White's Estate Tax Bill (At a Deep Discount)

Unfortunately, we don't know the details of whether or not Betty White had life insurance. 

It's reasonable to think she may have owned a life insurance policy since she once did some commercials for a life insurance company.  

Anyway, I hope she did!

As you will see in this section, she could have used life insurance to pay her estate tax bill for pennies on the dollar.

Let's imagine White had met with a financial planner at the age of 50 and after estimating a substantial future insurance need, had purchased a $20 million dollar lifetime policy.

According to Chris Lalor, life insurance agent at Life Insurance Shopping Reviews, it would cost $140,838 per year for a 50-year-old female to purchase a Signature Guarantee UL policy guaranteed to age 100 through American National.

It sounds like a lot of money but if you consider the average life expectancy for a female in the U.S. is age 82, you can break down the cost per year and see if it makes sense.

If you started paying $140,838 per year at age 50 and paid it for 32 years until passing away at age 82, you would have paid $4,506,816 by the end of your life.

Even if you were like White and lived to age 99, you still would have only paid $6,901,062.  That's not quite as good of deal, but let's face it; most people won't pay that many premiums because they won't live to 99 years old!

And remember, the life insurance company is going to pay out $20 million!  

That’s a pretty good return on investment, especially since it’s guaranteed and income tax free.  If placed in an irrevocable trust, the life insurance proceeds also would not be part of her taxable estate.

In other words, that $20 million payout could have paid off almost the entire tax bill!

Conclusion - High Net Worth Individuals Should Consider Buying Life Insurance

Betty White worked for years and years to accumulate her net worth.  It's horrible to think the IRS could take $21 million from her beneficiaries, whomever they may be.

Are you a high net worth individual?  Perhaps you are a real estate investor, celebrity, business owner, or executive?  

You should consider buying a hefty life insurance policy to go along with your hefty future estate tax bill.  It just isn't right to work your whole life to build up an inheritance, only to have 40% taken away from your children or organizations to whom you'd like to pass that money.

As they say, there are only two things certain in life:  death and life insurance to pay your taxes (slightly modified by yours truly).

If you have any questions, please call us at 1-877-674-0236.

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