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'Don't Become A Material Advisor
JULY 1, 2011
BY LANCE WALLACH
|TaxAudit419.com Lawyer4audits.com VebaPlan.org Taxlibrary.us
The Lance Wallach Network
|Accountants, insurance professionals and others need to be careful that they don’t become
what the IRS calls material advisors.
If they sell or give advice, or sign tax returns for abusive, listed or similar plans; they risk a
minimum $100,000 fine. Their client will then probably sue them after having dealt with the
In 2010, the IRS raided the offices of Benistar in Simsbury, Conn., and seized the retirement
benefit plan administration firm’s files and records. In McGehee Family Clinic, the Tax Court
ruled that a clinic and shareholder’s investment in an employee benefit plan marketed
under the name “Benistar” was a listed transaction because it was substantially similar to
the transaction described in Notice 95-34 (1995-1 C.B. 309). This is at least the second
case in which the court has ruled against the Benistar welfare benefit plan, by denominating
it a listed transaction.
The McGehee Family Clinic enrolled in the Benistar Plan in May 2001 and claimed
deductions for contributions to it in 2002 and 2005. The returns did not include a Form
8886, Reportable Transaction Disclosure Statement, or similar disclosure. The IRS
disallowed the latter deduction and adjusted the 2004 return of shareholder Robert Prosser
and his wife to include the $50,000 payment to the plan.
The IRS assessed tax deficiencies and the enhanced 30 percent penalty under Section
6662A, totaling almost $21,000, against the clinic and $21,000 against the Prossers. The
court ruled that the Prossers failed to prove a reasonable cause or good faith exception.
In rendering its decision, the court cited Curcio v. Commissioner, in which the court also
ruled in favor of the IRS. As noted in Curcio, the insurance policies, which were
overwhelmingly variable or universal life policies, required large contributions relative to the
cost of the amount of term insurance that would be required to provide the death benefits
under the arrangement. The Benistar Plan owned the insurance contracts. The excessive
cost of providing death benefits was a reason for the court’s finding in Curcio that tax
deductions had been properly disallowed.
As in Curcio, the McGehee court held that the contributions to Benistar were not deductible
under Section 162(a) because the participants could receive the value reflected in the
underlying insurance policies purchased by Benistar—despite the payment of benefits by
Benistar seeming to be contingent upon an unanticipated event (the death of the insured
while employed). As long as plan participants were willing to abide by Benistar’s distribution
policies, there was no reason ever to forfeit a policy to the plan. In fact, in estimating life
insurance rates, the taxpayers’ expert in Curcio assumed that there would be no forfeitures,
even though he admitted that an insurance company would generally assume a reasonable
rate of policy lapse.
Companies should carefully evaluate their proposed investments in plans such as the
Benistar Plan. The claimed deductions will be disallowed, and penalties will be assessed for
lack of disclosure if the investment is similar to the investments described in Notice 95-34,
that is, if the transaction is a listed transaction and Form 8886 is either not filed at all or is
not properly filed. The penalties, though perhaps not as severe, are also imposed for
reportable transactions, which are defined as transactions having the potential for tax
avoidance or evasion.
Insurance agents have been selling such abusive plans since the 1990's. They started as
419A(F)(6) plans and abusive 412i plans. The IRS went after them. They then evolved to
single-employer 419(e) plans, which the IRS also went after. The latest scams may be the
so-called captive insurance plan and the so-called Section 79 plan.
While captive insurance plans are legitimate for large corporations, they are usually not
legitimate for small business owners as a way to obtain a tax deduction. I have not yet seen
a legitimate Section 79 plan. Recently, I have sent some of the plan promoters’ materials
over to my IRS contacts who were very interested in receiving them. Some of my associates
are already trying to help defend some unsuspecting business owners who are being
audited by the IRS with respect to these plans.
Similar, though perhaps not as abusive, plans fail after the IRS goes after them. Niche was
one example. The company first marketed a 419A(F)(6) plan that the IRS audited. They
then marketed a 419(e) plan that the IRS audited. Niche, insurance companies, agents, and
many accountants were then sued after their clients lost their deductions, paid fines,
interest, and penalties, and then paid huge fines for failure to file properly under 6707A.
Niche then went out of business.
Millennium sold 419 plans through insurance companies. They stupidly filed for a private
letter ruling to the effect that they were not a listed transaction. They got exactly the
opposite: a private letter ruling saying that they were a listed transaction. Then many
participants were audited. The IRS disallowed the deductions, imposed penalties and
interest, and then assessed large fines for not filing properly under Section 6707A. The
result was lawsuits against agents, insurance companies and accountants. Millennium
sought bankruptcy protection after a lot of lawsuits.
I have been an expert witness in a lot of the lawsuits in these 419 plans, 412i plans, and the
like, and my side has never lost a case. I have received thousands of phone calls over the
years from business owners, accountants, angry plan promoters, insurance agents, and
other various professionals. In the 1990's, when I started writing for the AICPA and other
publications warning about these abusive plans, most people laughed at me, especially the
In 2002, when I spoke at the annual national convention of the American Society of Pension
Actuaries in Washington, people took notice. The IRS chief actuary Jim Holland also held a
meeting similar to mine on abusive 412i plans. Many IRS agents attended my meeting. I was
also invited to IRS headquarters, at the request of the acting IRS commissioner, to meet
with high-level IRS officials and Treasury officials to discuss 419 issues in depth, which I did
after the meeting.
The IRS then set up task forces and started going after 419 and 412i plans. I have been
profusely warning accountants to properly file under 6707A to avoid the large fines, but
most do not. Even if they file, if they make a mistake on the forms, the IRS will fine them.
Very few accountants have had experience filing the forms, and the IRS instructions are
complicated and therefore difficult to follow. I only know of two people who have been
successful in properly filing the forms, especially after the fact. If the forms are filled out
incorrectly, they should be amended and corrected Most accountants call me a few years
later when they and their clients get the large fines, either after improperly filling out the
forms or failing to fill them out at all. Unfortunately, by then it is too late. If they don’t call me
then, then they call me when their clients sue them.
Lance Wallach is a frequent speaker on retirement plans, financial and estate planning,
and abusive tax shelters, and writes about 412(i), 419 and captive insurance plans. He can
be reached at (516) 938-5007, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.vebaplan.com. Don’t
Become a ‘Material Advisor’