For many Illinois funeral homes, April 15th served as a bitter reminder of Merrill Lynch and the financial losses suffered by the IFDA master trust. The final Merrill Lynch settlements (approximately $41 million) were received in 2012, and taxes had to be paid on those funds this past tax day. Funeral directors have questioned how those settlement payments could be taxed as income after the losses suffered when Merrill Lynch (as trustee) terminated the key man policies sold to the trust by a Merrill Lynch investment broker. After all, the aggregate settlement payments ($59 million) did not come close to covering the write downs taken by the trust ($76 million). But, Merrill Lynch took the position that a write down in a funeral home’s trust value for policy surrenders did not represent an investment loss. To compound the situation, Merrill Lynch filed a final Form 1041qft for each funeral home that transferred out of the master trust and treated the trust as terminated.
The question is whether Merrill Lynch could have characterized the value write downs so as to afford the funeral homes a capital loss carry over that could be applied to the settlement payments and future income. If one assumes the lowest Form 1041qft tax rate of 15%, Merrill Lynch could have saved the IFDA master trust participants income taxes of approximately $11.5 million.
With Merrill Lynch now out of the IFDA picture, funeral homes may want to turn to the IFDA’s new trustee for assistance. If the write downs can be properly characterized as losses that can be used as capital loss carryovers, it may be worthwhile to have those ‘final’ 1041QFT returns amended. As fiduciary of the Wisconsin Master Trust, the IFDA trustee may have already contemplated this issue.