Specifically, captive insurance can help your business clients potentially greatly lower their insurance costs, have more control in managing their insurance, and obtain coverage that might otherwise be unavailable or not affordable. Some forms of captive insurance allow an insured or its assign to maintain an ownership interest in the underlying insurance company. As with any successful business, an owner of a captive can work with his or her advisers to best manage their insurance company. Another potential benefit is that of business and estate planning.
This author stresses that a captive should never be formed unless the primary reason is business purpose. Captives should never be marketed by advisers as “wealth management” or “estate planning” tools. In fact, improper marketing of an otherwise compliant captive can lead to the loss of the captive’s tax status as an insurance company, resulting in taxation and penalties of nearly one hundred percent of premiums.
Yet it is a fact that a successful captive may be useful in business and estate planning. Ownership of a captive may be facilitated by a partnership or trust which is owned, controlled by, or benefits a business owners’ descendants.
As an example, suppose that a business owner (Senior) wants to establish a captive insurance company in order to lower his insurance costs. The insurance company could be owned by a generation skipping trust currently controlled by Senior’s children. The captive’s premiums must be actually verifiable and the coverage must be wholly justifiable. The insurance sold by the captive needs to comport with all relevant statutes from both a regulatory and an IRS standpoint. If the captive’s claims are less than actually anticipated, it may have retained earnings or profits. Depending on the type of captive insurance company, the tax rate levied on underwriting profits can be as little as zero percent. Over time, the insurance company’s profits may be distributed as capital gains, dividends, or even loans to the beneficiaries of the insurance trust. The captive could even provide a funding source for future business opportunities.
The ultimate effect of a compliant and successful captive could be to transfer a portion of the pre-tax premiums from Senior’s business over to Senior’s children, grandchildren, etc., without income, gift, or estate tax. The bottom line for any accountant or wealth adviser is that captives should be looked at as a way to garner significant insurance cost savings with a possibility of secondary benefits.
Again, the author cannot overemphasize the importance that the captive must be designed to and operate as a compliant insurance company. The company must have real losses, real exposure to third party risk, and cannot be in any way an alter ego of or a savings account for the business owner.
Captives can be a tremendous tool helping businesses lower their insurance costs. This author has seen an example of businesses saving millions of dollars in a few short years by properly using captives.
Equally stunning, however, are the adverse tax consequences of an improperly marketed or managed captive. The advisory team chosen for this type work should have many years of captive insurance experience and, ideally, should be supported by a large regional or national law firm.