412i Plans Attacked by IRS, Lawsuits
IRS has been attacking abusive 412i plans for years. Business men have been suing the insurance agents who sold the plans. The IRS has attacked 412i, 419 plans for years. As a result promoters are now promoting section 79 and captive insurance plans. They are just starting to be attacked by the IRS.
A 412(i) plan differs from other defined benefit pension plans in that it must be funded exclusively by the purchase of individual life insurance products.
In the late 1990's brokers and promoters such as Kenneth Hartstein, Dennis Cunning, and others began selling 412(i) plans designed with policies created and sold through agents of Pacific Life, Hartford, Indianapolis life, and American General. These plans were sold or administered through companies such as Economic Concepts, Inc., Pension Professionals of America, Pension Strategies, L.L.C. and others.
These plans were very lucrative for the brokers, promoters, agents, and insurance companies. In addition to the costs associated with administering the plans, the policies of insurance had high commissions. If they were cancelled within a few years of purchase the had very little cash value.
These plans were often described as Pendulum Plans, or other similar names. In theory, the plans would work as follows. After the plan was set up, the plan would purchase a life insurance policy insuring the life of an individual. The plan would have very little (and high surrender charges) for 5 or more years. The Corporation would pay the premium on the policy and take a deduction for the entire amount. In year 5, when the policy had little or no cash value, the plan would transfer the policy to the individual, who would take it at a greatly reduced basis. Subsequently, the policy would spring up with cash value, thus the name springing cash value policy. The insured would have cash value which he could withdraw almost tax free .
Attorney Richard Smith at the law firm of Bryan Cave issued tax opinion letters opinion which stated that the design of many of the plans met the requirements of section 412(i) of the tax code.
In the early 2000s, IRS officials began questioning the insurance representatives, brokers, promoters, and their attorneys and giving speeches at benefits conferences wherein they took the position that these plans were in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Internal Revenue Code. When I spoke at the annual national convention of the American Society of Pension Actuaries in 2002 I heard such a speech given by Jim Holland, IRS chief actuary.
In February 2004, the IRS issued guidance on 412(i) and began the process of making plans "listed transactions." Taxpayers involved in listed transaction are required to report them to the IRS. These transactions are to be reported using a form 8886. The failure to file a form 8886 subjects individual to penalties of very large amounts, and failure of insurance agents, accountants and others to file 8918 results in a $100,000 fine.
In late 2005, the IRS began obtaining information from advisors and actively auditing plans and more recently, levying section 6707 penalties. First the IRS would audit the business owner and deny the deduction. The business owner would also owe interest and penalties. Then another unit of the IRS would assess large additional fines for failure to properly file, or failure to file 8886 forms. The directions for these forms is very complicated, especially if the forms are filed after the fact. Many business owners still got fined even if they filed the forms. If the forms were not filled in exactly right a fine was still assessed.
The IRS's response to these 412(i) plans was predictable. They made it clear that the IRS would not be gentle and even indicated that potential criminal liability existed. The IRS made speeches and people like me wrote articles about the problems.
Insurance company representatives attended these conferences and heard the IRS warnings. Many of them ignored them.
Neither the brokers, promoters, or Insurance companies relayed this information to their clients and insureds at this time. When I would speak about the problems of 412i and 419 plans I would be attacked by promoters and salesmen. When I testified against a springing cash value policy in my first court case I was challenged by the defendants attorney as not being an expert. The judge allowed the jury to hear whether I was indeed an expert. The result was a huge loss for the defense.
On February 13, 2004, the IRS issued a press release, two revenue rulings, and proposed regulations to shut down abusive transactions involving specifically designed life insurance policies in retirement plans, section 412(i) plans and 419 plans etc.
In October of 2005, the IRS invited those who sponsored 412(i) plans that were treated as listed transactions to enter a settlement program in which the taxpayer would rescind the plan and pay the income taxes it would have paid had it not engaged in the plan, plus interest and reduced penalties.
MDL stands for Multidistrict Litigation. It was created by Congress in 1968 – 28 U.S.C. §1407.
The act created an MDL Panel of judges to determine whether civil actions pending in different federal districts involve one or more common questions of fact such that the actions should be transferred to one federal district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. In theory, the purposes of this transfer or “centralization” process are to avoid duplication of discovery, to prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings, and to conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary. Transferred actions which are not resolved in the MDL are remanded to their originating court or district by the Panel for trial. Lots of people who were audited sued the insurance companies, agents, accountants and others.
Then, Pacific Life, Hartford Life & Annuity moved for summary judgment in the MDL. The court granted the motions in part, and denied the motions in part. Specifically, the court dealt with the issue of the disclaimers contained within the policies and signed by various policyholders.
Applying California law in evaluating the disclosures and disclaimers, the Court ruled that the California Plaintiffs failed to raise issues of material fact that they reasonably relied on representations by Hartford and Pacific Life regarding the tax and legal issues related to their 412(i) plans.
Conversely, the court ruled that pursuant to Wisconsin law, the disclaimers were unenforceable. The court came to similar conclusion when applying Texas law to the Plaintiffs claims.
Plaintiffs have been more successful in suing 419 plan promoters, insurance companies, accountants, etc. I have been an expert witness and my side has never lost a case.
I have been speaking with my IRS contacts about the newest abusive tax shelter trends, captives and section 79 plans. They have started auditing participants in these plans. The IRS has not yet decided if the plans are listed, abusive or similar to. I think that captive insurance companies and section 79 plans may become the next 412 and 419 problem for unsuspecting companies. Designed under IRS Code 831(b), these captive insurance companies are designed to insure the risks of an individual business. In theory and if properly designed, the premiums are deducted when paid to a related company, and depending on claims, profits can be paid out as dividends and when liquidated, the proceeds are taxed at capital gains rates.
The problem with Captives is that they are expensive to set up and operate. Captives must be operating as a true risk assuming entity, not simply a tax avoidance vehicle. Some variations are to rent a cell captives that can work for a lot less money.
The IRS is looking into the sale of life insurance to fund Captives. They are also looking at most section 79 plans. This sounds very familiar.
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The information provided herein is not intended as legal, accounting, financial or any type of advice for any specific individual or other entity. You should contact an appropriate professional for any such advice.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.