What Estate of Marion Levine Means for Life Insurance

Life insurance!! Years ago, when the exemption amount was lower, I suggested the purchase of life insurance to provide liquidity for an estate if the individual expected to have an estate tax liability at death. With the current exemption amount of $12.06 million, far fewer individuals need to purchase life insurance solely for this reason. Far more individuals purchase life insurance as an investment and use sophisticated techniques to achieve the desired tax results. A recent Tax Court case that resulted in a huge win for the taxpayer demonstrates the effective use of one of those techniques.

The taxpayer, Marion Levine, used an ILIT to purchase life insurance on her son and daughter-in-law and structured the transaction to avoid estate tax inclusion under Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) Sections 2036 and 2038. The following example contains facts based upon the Estate of Marion Levine v. Commissioner (158 T.C. No. 2). Marion’s attorneys-in-fact created an ILIT to own two life insurance policies. The provisions of the ILIT named a trust company as an independent trustee and named a business associate of Marion’s as the sole member of the investment committee. Of note, the investment committee possessed the power to terminate the arrangement and controlled all investment decisions for the ILIT. The ILIT borrowed $6.5 million from Marion’s revocable trust to pay upfront premiums to purchase the insurance policies insuring Marion’s son and daughter-in-law. The ILIT assigned the policies to the revocable trust as collateral for the amount borrowed and agreed to repay the revocable trust its investment: the greater of the premiums paid or the cash surrender value of the policies either on the death of the insureds or at the date of termination of the policies. The ILIT retained the right to terminate the arrangement and surrender the policies. Upon Marion’s death, her executor was unclear about what to include in Marion’s estate: her revocable trust’s right of repayment in the future valued at $2,282,195 or the cash-surrender value of the life insurance policies at the time Marion died valued at approximately $6,500,000.

The Tax Court determined that the split-dollar arrangement met the requirements set forth in Treasury Regulation Section 1.61-22 and concluded that neither Code Sections 2036(a)(2) or 2038 required inclusion of the cash-surrender value in Marion’s Estate. Marion retained no right to terminate the policies, either alone or in conjunction with someone else. Remember, that right remained with the ILIT alone. Marion’s revocable trust possessed a receivable created by the split-dollar arrangement which was the right to receive the greater of the premiums paid or the cash-surrender value of the policies upon termination and nothing more. Although the Commissioner argued that the transaction was a façade that did not match the reality, the Tax Court disagreed and found that state law imposed fiduciary duties on the sole member of the investment committee with respect to the trust and its beneficiaries, none of whom were Marion. The Tax Court concluded that the only asset from the split-dollar arrangement includible in Marion’s estate was the receivable owned by her revocable trust at death.

While the above example seems straightforward in many ways, the taxpayer scored a huge victory because the estate included only the discounted value ($2,282,195) of what it gave to the ILIT, rather than the full value ($6,500,000) which was a 65% discount. Further, although Marion’s attorneys-in-fact created both the ILIT and the revocable trust, and served as Trustees of the ILIT, the Tax Court did not collapse the transaction. Because the ILIT named an independent trustee and contained instructions that the investment committee direct the Trustee, that preserved the transaction and kept the assets out of Marion’s estate, even though it seemed she stood on both sides of the transaction. As this article demonstrates, understanding life insurance and the use of ILITs presents an opportunity for us to work together and add value by being well-versed in the myriad ways to use and structure life insurance.