Split-Dollar Insurance Benefits Were Compensation, Not Distribution

Split-Dollar Insurance Benefits Were Compensation, Not Distribution

Death benefits that an S corporation provided to its sole shareholder under a split-dollar life insurance arrangement were employee compensation rather than a corporate distribution. In reaching this decision, the Tax Court firmly rejected the contrary conclusion reached by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in J.J. Machacek, CA-6, 2018-2 U.S.T.C. 50,447.

The taxpayers were a medical doctor and his wife. The doctor was the sole owner of his practice, which was organized as an S corporation that employed him and his wife. The taxpayers received wages from the S corporation, as well as fringe benefits from an employee welfare benefit plan.

The fringe benefits included death benefits that the Tax Court had previously concluded were provided under a compensatory split-dollar life insurance program ( R. De Los Santos, Dec. 61.270). However. the taxpayers responded by seeking summary judgment that the economic benefits provided by the program actually constituted a corporate distribution.

Tax Court Rejects Machacek
In Machacek, the Sixth Circuit had relied on Reg. §1.301-1(q), which states that economic benefits that a corporation provides to a shareholder under a split-dollar life insurance policy are treated as distributions of property. The Sixth Circuit emphasized that the regulation’s cross reference to Reg. §1.61-22(b) meant that it applied to both compensatory and noncompensatory split-dollar arrangements.

The Tax Court rejected this analysis. Instead, it determined that Code Sec. 301 clearly requires distributions to be made to a shareholder in the shareholder’s capacity as a shareholder. Because the compensatory split-dollar life insurance arrangement afforded benefits to the doctor in his capacity as an employee of the S corporation, the Tax Court concluded that the economic benefits he received under the arrangement could not be characterized as “distributions” under Code Sec. 301.

S Corporation Fringe Benefits
The benefits also were fringe benefits paid by an S corporation under Code Sec. 1372. As such, they were treated as guaranteed partnership payments that were ordinary income, and not a corporate distribution.

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