What Is a Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF)?

Underwriters' meetingNew insurance agents can get a grounding in the basic skills, such as underwriting, needed to succeed in the field by becoming a Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF). After completing the required training, agents will have greater expertise in prospecting, selling, practice management as well as insight into practice specialties including life and health insurance, employee benefits and annuities. Having a LUTCF also can aid new agents in acquiring a job with an agency and in marketing themselves to prospective clients.

The LUTCF is overseen by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA). The training and testing are provided by education company Kaplan through its College for Financial Planning division.

LUTCF Certification Requirements

The core of the certification requirements for the LUTCF is a set of three courses. Each course consists of eight weeks of instruction followed by a week for review and testing.

The first course is an introduction to life insurance and managing a life insurance practice. It covers business planning, ethics, life insurance product basics, risk management, prospecting, selling skills and financial planning.

The second course goes deeper into life insurance as well as annuities, mutual funds and insurance for health, disability, long-term care, group coverage and property and casualty. Risk management, retirement and estate planning are among the subjects covered in the third course.

The third course deals with risk management applications. It covers retirement and estate planning as well as special situations.

The courses are available as self-paced prerecorded lectures. They are also taught live and via interactive online classes. After completing each of the three courses, students must pass a two-hour test. To pass, they must correctly answer 70% of the 50 questions on each test.

The training costs $950 per course for a total of $2,850. The only prerequisite for the LUTCF is to belong to NAIFA, which has a sliding membership fee scale. People in their first year in financial services pay $10 to belong to NAIFA. The fee increases annually until it reaches $56 a year after a member has five years of experience in the field.

After receiving the designation, LUTCF designees can renew it by paying a $50 renewal fee every two years. As part of the renewal process, they also have to demonstrate that they have completed three hours of ethics continuing education every two years. In addition, LUTCF holders must agree to follow standards of professional conduct and be subject to a disciplinary process.

LUTCF Holder Jobs

Insurance worksheetsLUTCF seekers are usually insurance agents at the start of their careers. They may be interested in obtaining the designation as a way to convince potential employers of their commitment and knowledge about the life insurance industry. Having the LUTCF initials on a business card is also seen as an aid in marketing to prospects. The LUTCF is an optional certification and does not confer any specific powers or privileges on holders.

The designation has been around since 1984 and approximately 70,000 people have earned an LUTCF during that time.

Comparable Certifications

There are only a few entry-level certificates available to life insurance agents. In addition to the LUTCF, new agents can choose from:

Financial Services Certified Professional (FSCP) is offered by the American College of Financial Services, which originally co-sponsored the LUTCF with NAIFA. In 2013 the organizations ended their association and the American College of Financial Service began offering the FSCP. It requires passing seven courses on financial services and ethics topics at a combined cost of $3,230.

Registered Financial Associate (RFA) is a designation from the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants. It is offered to agents and other financial professionals who have already received a life insurance license, Series 65 securities license, bachelor degree in a related field or any of a number of professional designations, including a LUTCF. RFAs also have to pay a $250 fee. The only requirement other than that is to pass an examination on the organization’s code of ethics for financial professionals.

Bottom Line

Business meeting

The Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow (LUTCF) certification is one of the first designations sought by beginning life insurance agents. To get one, students have to learn about life and other forms of insurance, mutual funds, annuities, employee benefits and financial advising, in addition to managing a life insurance business, prospecting and selling.

Tips on Insurance

  • A consumer considering purchasing life insurance can increase the chances of making a good decision by having a relationship with a trusted and experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Entry-level designations for financial services professionals like the LUTCF indicate that an advisor is interested in learning about the field and following best practices. More advanced certifications such as Chartered Life Underwriter and Certified Financial Planner are likely to indicate that a professional is a more experienced and well-informed source for financial advice.

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Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita in Estate Planning

Three generations of one familyWhen creating an estate plan, one of the most basic documents you may wish to include is a will. If you have a more complicated estate, you might also need to have a trust in place. Both a will and a trust can specify how you want assets distributed among your beneficiaries. When making those decisions, it’s important to distinguish between per stirpes and per capita distributions. These are two terms you’re likely to come across when shaping your estate plan. Here’s a closer look at what per stirpes vs. per capita means.

Per Stirpes, Explained

If you’ve never heard the term per stirpes before, it’s a Latin phrase that translates to “by branch” or “by class.” When this term is applied to estate planning, it refers to the equal distribution of assets among the different branches of a family and their surviving descendants.

A per stirpes designation allows the descendants of a beneficiary to keep inherited assets within that branch of their family, even if the original beneficiary passes away. Those assets would be equally divided between the survivors.

Here’s an example of how per stirpes distributions work for estate planning. Say that you draft a will in which you designate your adult son and daughter as beneficiaries. You opt to leave your estate to them, per stirpes.

If you pass away before both of your children, then they could each claim a half share of your estate under the terms of your will. Now, assume that each of your children has two children of their own and your son passes away before you do. In that scenario, your daughter would still inherit a half share of the estate. But your son’s children would split his half of your estate, inheriting a quarter share each.

Per stirpes distributions essentially create a trickle-down effect, in which assets can be passed on to future generations if a primary beneficiary passes away. A general rule of thumb is that the flow of assets down occurs through direct descendants, rather than spouses. So, if your son were married, his children would be eligible to inherit his share of your estate, not his wife.

Per Capita, Explained

Older couple signs a will

Per capita is also a Latin term which means “by head.” When you use a per capita distribution method for estate planning, any assets you have would pass equally to the beneficiaries are still living at the time you pass away. If you’re writing a will or trust as part of your estate plan, that could include the specific beneficiaries you name as well as their descendants.

So again, say that you have a son and a daughter who each have two children. These are the only beneficiaries you plan to include in your will. Under a per capita distribution, instead of your son and daughter receiving a half share of your estate, they and your four grandchildren would each receive a one-sixth share of your assets. Those share portions would adjust accordingly if one of your children or grandchildren were to pass away before you.

Per Stirpes vs. Per Capita: Which Is Better?

Whether it makes sense to use a per stirpes or per capita distribution in your estate plan can depend largely on how you want your assets to be distributed after you’re gone. It helps to consider the pros and cons of each option.

Per Stirpes Pros:

  • Allows you to keep asset distributions within the same branch of the family
  • Eliminates the need to amend or update wills and trusts when a child is born to one of your beneficiaries or a beneficiary passes away
  • Can help to minimize the potential for infighting among beneficiaries since asset distribution takes a linear approach

Per Stirpes Cons:

  • It’s possible an unwanted person could take control of your assets (i.e., the spouse of one of your children if he or she is managing assets on behalf of a minor child)

Per Capita Pros:

  • You can specify exactly who you want to name as beneficiaries and receive part of your estate
  • Assets are distributed equally among beneficiaries, based on the value of your estate at the time you pass away
  • You can use this designation to pass on assets outside of a will, such as a 401(k) or IRA

Per Capita Cons:

  • Per capita distributions could trigger generation-skipping tax for grandchildren or other descendants who inherit part of your estate

Deciding whether it makes more sense to go with per stirpes vs. per capita distributions can ultimately depend on your personal preferences. Per stirpes distribution is typically used in family settings when you want to ensure that individual branches of the family will benefit from your estate. On the other hand, per capita distribution gives you control over which individuals or group of individuals are included as beneficiaries.

Review Beneficiary Designations Periodically

Multi-generational family

If you have a will and/or a trust, you may have named your beneficiaries. But it’s possible that you may want to change those designations at some point. If you named your son and his wife in your will, for example, but they’ve since gotten divorced you may want to update the will with a codicil to exclude his ex-wife. It’s also helpful to check the beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, investment accounts and life insurance policies after a major life change.

For example, if you get divorced then you may not want your spouse to be the beneficiary of your retirement accounts. Or if they pass away before you, you may want to update your beneficiary designations to your children or grandchildren.

The Bottom Line

Per stirpes and per capita distribution rules can help you decide what happens to your assets after you pass away. But they both work very differently. Understanding the implications of each one for your beneficiaries, including how they may be affected from a tax perspective, can help you decide which course to take.

Tips for Estate Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about how to get started with estate planning and what per stirpes vs. per capita distributions might mean for your heirs. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect, within minutes, with a professional advisor in your local area. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • While it’s always a good idea to consult with a financial advisor about estate planning, you can take a do-it-yourself approach to writing a will by doing it online. Here’s what you need to know about digital DIY will writing.

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Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS)

What is the AAMS certification?New financial advisors need something to help them stand out. Consequently, the AAMS does just that. Designed for newcomers to the financial advice business, the AAMS trains advisors to identify investment opportunities as well as help clients with other financial goals. It also gives more experienced advisors a fast and simple way to learn more about asset management and improve their credentials. Here’s how it works.

AAMS Defined

An Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) can advise clients on college savings, taxes, and retirement savings. The course and tests for this certification are designed to ensure advisors can assist clients with their complete financial needs. It emphasizes evaluating the client’s assets and making appropriate recommendations.

The AAMS certification is granted by the College for Financial Planning, a unit of the Kaplan Company. The college oversees a large number of financial certification programs, including the Certified Financial Planner designation, one of the most valued certifications in the field.

AAMS Certification Requirements

What is the AAMS certification?

To receive an AAMS, students first have to complete a 10-module education program provided by the College for Financial Planning. Then they have to pass an examination. Finally, they must agree to abide by a code of ethics and promise to continue their education.

The courses are online and can be delivered in self-study or instructor-led formats. Courses are open-enrollment, therefore students can begin at any time without waiting for the next session.  The 10 modules cover the following material:

1.:The Asset Management Process

2. Risk, Return & Investment Performance

3. Asset Allocation & Selection

4. Investment Strategies

5. Taxation of Investments

6. Investing for Retirement

7. Deferred Compensation and Other Benefit Plans

8. Insurance Products for Investment Clients

9. Estate Planning for Investment Clients

10. Fiduciary, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues for Advisors

The College of Financial Planning provides everything necessary to study for and complete the modules and take the test. Students have access to the study materials and tests through an online portal.

Streaming video lectures, audio files, and interactive quizzes also can be found through the college’s site. Meanwhile, students can access live classes online and contact professors with questions and issues.

The AAMS Test

To get the AAMS certification, students have to pass just one test. However, they have to make their first attempt at the test within six months of enrollment and pass it within a year.

The fee for the first attempt at taking the test is included in the course tuition. There are no prerequisites for signing up to take the AAMS course.

Time and Money Requirement

Tuition for the AAMS courses is $1,300. This includes the fee for the first attempt at passing the certification exam. It also includes all needed course materials. Each additional attempt costs $100.

Students employed with certain financial services firms may be able to get tuition discounts. The college may also provide scholarships.

The College for Financial Planning recommends students plan to spend 80 hours to 100 hours on the course. Since the course is self-study, this amount of time is flexible.

To maintain AAMS certification students have to commit to completing 16 continuing education credits every two years. Also, continuing education has to cover one or more of the topics covered in the AAMS coursework.

AAMS certificate holders also have to agree to follow a professional standard of conduct. As a result, they have to maintain integrity, objectivity, competency, confidentiality and professionalism in providing financial services.

AAMS Certificate Holder Jobs

AAMS certificates are generally earned by entry-level workers in the financial advice business. Consequently, AAMS holders are typically trainees. In some cases, they may provide support services to more experienced and highly credentialed advisors.

The AAMS designation does not confer any special powers or privileges. Instead, it’s an optional credential that students may obtain to advance their careers and enhance their knowledge of financial advice.

Comparable Certifications

What is the AAMS certification?

In addition to the AAMS, the College for Financial Planning offers an Accredited Wealth Manager Advisor (AWMA) certificate. This is a somewhat more advanced designation. As a result, it requires a course equivalent to three graduate level college credits and requires 90 hours to 135 hours to complete.

Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor (CMFC) is sponsored by the Investment Company Institute along with the College of Financial Planning. It is similar to the AAMS certificate except it focuses on mutual fund assets.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is a general personal finance advice certificate from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. First, it requires 1,000 hours of financial counseling experience. Secondly, it demands three letters of reference. Finally, applicants must both complete coursework and pass an exam.

Bottom Line

The AAMS designation is usually for newly minted financial advisors, but even experienced pros can use it to bulk up their credentials. The courses and tests associated with the AAMS teach advisors how to evaluate assets and make recommendations.

While this certification doesn’t give an advisor any real powers, it’s a sign that they can identify investment opportunities specific to their clients. Above all else, it can be a great relief to a client who has a child going to college or a retirement house on their wish list. As a result of obtaining an AAMS, and advisor can point them toward the right investments for their goals.

Investing Tips

  • If you’re looking to identify investment opportunities, consider using an AAMS as your advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • An AAMS can help you with college savings, taxes, and retirement savings if you know what your goals are. However, if you are unsure how much you want to invest, what your risk tolerance is, or how inflation and capital gains tax will affect your investment, SmartAsset’s investing guide can help you take the first steps.

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Fiduciary Bonds: Definition, Types, Costs

Couple considers a fiduciary bond

A fiduciary bond, otherwise known as a probate bond, is a protective court bond that ensures a fiduciary will honor the expectations placed on them according to the law. The fiduciary bond upholds the interests and protection of the estate or trust owner. To understand who needs a fiduciary bond, how it works and the costs involved, here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Fiduciary Bond?

Fiduciary bonds are legal instruments that act as insurance to protect heirs, beneficiaries or other creditors when a fiduciary commits acts of fraud, embezzlement or other forms of dishonesty. To prevent damage, as a result, the court may require anyone with a fiduciary responsibility to another party to get a fiduciary bond.

Generally speaking, a fiduciary is an individual responsible for safeguarding the interest of another party. Fiduciaries may include trustees, guardians, financial professionals or another party with control over someone’s assets or property. Typically, a fiduciary will take control of someone’s assets when they are no longer able to manage them independently.

For example, a will may name a fiduciary to maintain the decedent’s assets. However, in the absence of a will, the spouse or children may take control, followed by relatives.

A fiduciary bond can range in price and ultimately depends on the value of the estate, as well as a few other factors. It may only be required to pay a portion to fund the bond, rather than the entire amount. For instance, if the fiduciary bond is $100,000, you may only need to pay about $400 to $600, depending on whether you receive approval.

Example of a Fiduciary Bond

Let’s say that John Smith is an elderly man who can no longer manage his property and assets. He didn’t appoint anyone to manage his finances, so the court appoints his daughter, Sally, to manage them in his place. To protect these assets, she may need to secure a fiduciary bond to guarantee she will meet her role’s duties and responsibilities.

The bond will help ensure that Sally won’t sell her father’s estate or embezzle money from him. If someone thinks Sally is not fulfilling the role of a fiduciary, they can make a claim against her. The company that issued the bond will then step in and fulfill the claim.

The company would likely reimburse John Smith for any money lost and then pursue Sally for the reimbursement of funds. If Sally no longer wants to be the estate’s fiduciary, she must find a suitable replacement and get approval from the court to resign. Until she does so, she is accountable for the duties and responsibilities of the fiduciary.

Who Needs a Fiduciary Bond?

A fiduciary bond isn’t always required. If it is mandatory, the fiduciary will receive a notification from the court.

In some cases, beneficiaries or creditors may request a fiduciary bond if they have concerns about the integrity of the fiduciary.

Usually, when banks, trusts or other corporate fiduciaries are in the mix, the courts don’t require a fiduciary bond. This is because there is less of a risk that a corporate fiduciary will compromise the payout.

Fiduciary Bond Types, Costs

Some of the common types of fiduciary bonds include:

  • Personal Representative Bond – This bond reassures the parties invested and connected to an estate that the fiduciary will manage the estate affairs in a responsible and ethical manner. The latter will also comply with local, state and federal laws and duties.
  • Executor Bond – This bond reassures the beneficiaries of an estate that even if the fiduciary doesn’t fulfill their duties, the bond will protect them and they will also receive compensation.
  • Guardianship Bond – This bond protects an individual who is receiving day-to-day care from a guardian. If the guardian fails to perform his or her obligations, someone can make a claim against the person.
  • Trustee Bond – It’s the trustee’s duty and responsibility to handle the trust’s property and assets. This bond ensures that the trustee fulfills his duties appropriately.
  • Administrator Bond – This bond ensures that the administrator of an estate distributes the estate assets according to local, state and federal laws.
  • Conservatorship Bond – A conservator handles the monetary matters of someone who needs to be cared for by a guardian. This type of bond ensures that the conservator upholds the duties and responsibilities of the role.

A fiduciary bond can range in price and ultimately depends on the value of the estate, as well as a few other factors. It may only be required to pay a portion to fund the bond, rather than the entire amount. For instance, if the fiduciary bond is $100,000, you may only need to pay about $400 to $600, depending on whether you receive approval.

Duties and Obligations of a Fiduciary

Financial advisor talks to clientsThere are many different types of fiduciaries; therefore, their duties and obligations vary. For example, an executor’s duties include taking control of a decedent’s property, collecting debts and arranging appraisals of assets. On the other hand, a trustee may have duties such as directing audits, challenging improper claims and determining claimants. In comparison, guardians and conservators may have the extra responsibility to care for an incapacitated individual or minor.

When fulfilling the role of a fiduciary, the individual must have a high level of loyalty since it’s one of the highest standards of care by either equity or law.

It’s important to note that anyone who gives financial advice or handles funds is also a fiduciary. However, if they work for a company, the company is required to obtain a fidelity bond, which differs from a fiduciary bond.

The Takeaway

Two men shake hands

A fiduciary bond protects individuals who have their estate or trust managed and handled by a fiduciary. While the court may not always require a fiduciary bond, there are some instances where it may make sense to protect an individual’s assets. A fiduciary bond is a crucial protection to aid those who may not have other forms of recourse. Bonded fiduciaries are often members of a person’s immediate family.

Estate Planning Tips

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor experienced in estate planning. Finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool can set you up with three personalized financial advisor options in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • If you have a sizable estate, estate taxes on either the state or federal level could be hefty. However, you can easily plan ahead for taxes to maximize your loved ones’ inheritances. For example, you can gift portions of your estate in advance to heirs or even set up a trust.

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