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IRS Information Welfare Benefit Plans

​Notice 2007-83 

Abusive Trust Arrangements Utilizing Cash Value Life Insurance Policies Purportedly to Provide Welfare Benefits

IRS Information Abusive Trust Arrangements

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Treasury Department are aware of certain trust arrangements claiming to be welfare benefit funds and involving cash value life insurance policies that are being promoted to and used by taxpayers to improperly claim federal income and employment tax benefits. This notice informs taxpayers and their representatives that the tax benefits claimed for these arrangements are not allowable for federal tax purposes. This notice also alerts taxpayers and their representatives that these transactions are tax avoidance transactions and identifies certain transactions using trust arrangements involving cash value life insurance policies, and substantially similar transactions, as listed transactions for purposes of § 1.6011-4(b)(2) of the Income Tax Regulations and §§ 6111 and 6112 of the Internal Revenue Code. This notice further alerts persons involved with these transactions of certain responsibilities that may arise from their involvement with these transactions.

Concurrently with this notice, the IRS is publishing Rev. Rul. 2007-65 (concluding that for purposes of deductions allowable to an employer under § 419, a welfare benefit fund’s qualified direct cost does not include premium amounts for cash value life insurance policies paid by the fund, whenever the fund is directly or indirectly a beneficiary under the policy within the meaning of § 264(a)), and Notice 2007-84 (describing trust arrangements involving purported welfare benefit funds that, in form, provide post-retirement medical and life insurance benefits to employees on a nondiscriminatory basis but, in operation, result in the owner or owners receiving all or a substantial portion of the post-retirement and other benefits, and all or a substantial portion of any assets distributed from the trust).


BACKGROUND



1. Promoted Arrangements


Trust arrangements utilizing cash value life insurance policies and purporting to provide welfare benefits to active employees are being promoted to small businesses and other closely held businesses as a way to provide cash and other property to the owners of the business on a tax-favored basis. The arrangements are sometimes referred to by persons advocating their use as “single employer plans” and sometimes as “419(e) plans.” Those advocates claim that the employers’ contributions to the trust are deductible under §§ 419 and 419A as qualified cost, but that there is not a corresponding inclusion in the owner’s income.

A promoted trust arrangement may be structured either as a taxable trust or a tax-exempt trust, i.e., a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association (VEBA) that has received a determination letter from the IRS that it is described in § 501(c)(9). The plan and the trust documents indicate that the plan provides benefits such as current death benefit protection, self-insured disability benefits, and/or self-insured severance benefits to covered employees (including those employees who are also owners of the business), and that the benefits are payable while the employee is actively employed by the employer. The employer’s contributions are often based on premiums charged for cash value life insurance policies. For example, contributions may be based on premiums that would be charged for whole life policies. As a result, the arrangements often require large employer contributions relative to the actual cost of the benefits currently provided under the plan.

Under these arrangements, the trustee uses the employer’s contributions to the trust to purchase life insurance policies. The trustee typically purchases cash value life insurance policies on the lives of the employees who are owners of the business (and sometimes other key employees), while purchasing term life insurance policies on the lives of the other employees covered under the plan.

It is anticipated that after a number of years the plan will be terminated and the cash value life insurance policies, cash, or other property held by the trust will be distributed to the employees who are plan participants at the time of the termination. While a small amount may be distributed to employees who are not owners of the business, the timing of the plan termination and the methods used to allocate the remaining assets are structured so that the business owners and other key employees will receive, directly or indirectly, all or a substantial portion of the assets held by the trust.

Those advocating the use of these plans often claim that the employer is allowed a deduction under § 419(c)(3) for its contributions when the trustee uses those contributions to pay premiums on the cash value life insurance policies, while at the same time claiming that nothing is includible in the owner’s gross income as a result of the contributions (or, if amounts are includible, they are significantly less than the premiums paid on the cash value life insurance policies). They may also claim that nothing is includible in the income of the business owner or other key employee as a result of the transfer of a cash value life insurance policy from the trust to the employee, asserting that the employee has purchased the policy when, in fact, any amounts the owner or other key employee paid for the policy may be significantly less than the fair market value of the policy. Some of the plans are structured so that the owner or other key employee is the named owner of the life insurance policy from the plan’s inception, with the employee assigning all or a portion of the death proceeds to the trust. Advocates of these arrangements may claim that no income inclusion is required because there is no transfer of the policy itself from the trust to the employees.


2. Intent to Challenge Transactions


The IRS intends to challenge the claimed tax benefits for the above-described transactions for various reasons. Depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular arrangement, contributions to a purported welfare benefit fund on behalf of an employee who is a shareholder may properly be characterized as dividend income to the owner, the value of which is includible in the owner’s gross income, and for which amounts are not deductible by the corporation. See Neonatology Associates v. Commissioner, 299 F.3d 221 (3d Cir. 2002). Depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular arrangement, the arrangement may properly be characterized as a plan deferring the receipt of compensation for purposes of § 404(a)(5), resulting in the application of the rules under § 404(a)(5) governing the timing of any otherwise available deductions. See Wellons v. Commissioner, 31 F.3d 569 (7th Cir. 1994). In addition, an arrangement may properly be characterized as a nonqualified deferred compensation plan for purposes of § 409A. Application of § 409A may result in immediate inclusion of income and additional taxes to the employee, as well as income tax withholding liabilities to the employer. The facts and circumstances of a particular arrangement may result in it coming within the definition of a split-dollar life insurance arrangement, so that the tax consequences to the employer and the employees are subject to the rules governing those types of arrangements, including potentially § 409A. Under the economic benefit regime of the split-dollar life insurance arrangement rules set forth in § 1.61-22, the employee must include in income the full value of the economic benefits provided to the employee under the arrangement for the taxable year without a corresponding employer deduction.

If, based on the facts and circumstances, an arrangement described above is properly characterized as a welfare benefit fund for purposes of §§ 419 and 419A (rather than a dividend arrangement, a plan deferring the receipt of compensation, or a split-dollar life insurance arrangement), an employer is allowed a deduction for contributions to the trust or other welfare benefit fund only to the extent allowed under §§ 419 and 419A. Under §§ 419 and 419A, no deduction is allowed with respect to premiums paid for life insurance coverage provided to current employees if the welfare benefit fund or the employer is directly or indirectly a beneficiary under the life insurance policy within the meaning of § 264(a). In the promoted arrangements discussed above, the trust typically retains rights in the life insurance policies and is directly or indirectly a beneficiary under the policies, so that no deduction is allowed with respect to the life insurance premiums. See Situation 1 in Rev. Rul. 2007-65. Further, any deduction with respect to uninsured benefits (for example, uninsured medical, disability, or severance benefits) is not based on the premiums paid on the life insurance policies, but is generally limited to claims incurred and paid during the year.[1] See Situation 2 in Rev. Rul. 2007-65. Thus, contrary to the claims made by persons advocating the use of the arrangements discussed above, premiums on cash value life insurance policies paid through the trust are not a justification for claiming a deduction under §§ 419 and 419A.

Moreover, in appropriate cases, the IRS intends to challenge the value claimed by the taxpayer for property distributed from the trust, including cash value life insurance policies.

The above conclusions apply whether the trust used to provide the plan benefits is a taxable trust or a VEBA. While the trust may have received a determination letter stating the trust is exempt under § 501(c)(9), a letter of this type does not address the tax deductibility of contributions to the trust with respect to the employer nor the income inclusion with respect to the employees.

The IRS has previously identified certain other transactions that claim to be welfare benefit funds as listed transactions, concluding that the tax benefits claimed to be generated by these transactions are not allowable for federal income tax purposes. Notice 2003-24, 2003-1 C.B. 853, describes certain transactions purporting to meet the exception under § 419A(f)(5) for collectively bargained plans and identifies those and substantially similar transactions as listed transactions, and Notice 95-34, 1995-1 C.B. 309, describes transactions that purport to meet the 10-or-more employer plan exception under § 419A(f)(6). The transactions described in Notice 95-34 and substantially similar transactions have also been identified as listed transactions. See Notice 2004-67, 2004-2 C.B. 600. contact irs  IRS help 

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