Tag Archives: IRS

Tax Court Rejects IRS’ Attempt to Narrow Reasonable Cause Exception

Earlier this month, the Tax Court rejected an argument by the IRS that in order to establish good faith reliance on a tax advisor, for purposes of avoiding penalties, the taxpayer, a foreign corporation, needed to have (1) conducted an independent investigation into the tax advisor’s background and experience instead of merely relying upon the recommendation of the tax adviser by the taxpayer’s US legal counsel, and (2) hired a tax expert that specialized in international tax law or an attorney with an LL.M. degree.  The Tax Court found that the IRS attempted to impose greater conditions on the taxpayer than what is required under existing law. The Tax Court ruled that the taxpayer reasonably relied upon the recommendation of its legal counsel in hiring the tax advisor. Furthermore, the standard is not whether the tax advisor was an expert in international tax law or an attorney with an LL.M. degree, but instead whether the tax advisor was “a competent professional who had sufficient expertise to justify reliance.”

The opinion in the case, Grecian Magnesite, Industrial & Shipping Co., S.A. v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. 3 (2017), can be found here.

Michael J. Wilson
mwilson@williamsparker.com
941-536-2043

How to Sell Raw Land or Air Rights to a Real Estate Developer and Receive Back Finished Condominiums Tax-Free

When a land owner sells to a condominium developer, both the land owner and the developer have motivations favoring the developer “paying“ the land owner with finished condominium units instead of cash. Such a transaction reduces the developer’s up-front cash investment while sometimes enabling the developer to use all the land as collateral for senior financing. While more risky than a cash sale, the seller may receive condominium units more valuable than the cash price the seller could realize.

What gets in the way of these transactions?  Often, the seller balks because the seller lacks the cash to pay capital gains tax on the value of the condominium units received back. To alleviate that problem, transactions are sometimes structured as partnership “mixing bowl” co-investments and redemptions, or as combination ground lease-Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 exchange transactions. These structures may defer capital gains tax; however, they also are subject to restrictions and frequently sufficiently convoluted so as to interfere with the developer’s business structure or senior financing.

In some circumstances an alternative sale structure offers a better solution. Under the alternative, the seller takes the positon that the receipt of finished condominiums is exempt from capital gains tax under Internal Revenue Code Section 1038. These same rules exempt a seller from tax when the seller forecloses on a delinquent purchaser on traditional seller financing (in tax parlance, an installment note). Unlike the mixing bowl or combination ground lease-Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 exchange structures, the Section 1038 structure more closely resembles traditional seller financing, making it potentially more palatable to senior development lenders and more simple for all the parties to understand and implement.

To learn more—including understanding scenarios involving air rights rather than raw land—follow this link to materials summarizing all these potential structures originally presented in an American Bar Association Section of Taxation webinar.

Please note that we post these materials with permission from and subject to the copyright of a co-presenting firm, Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP.

 

Williams Parker Represents Taxpayers in Settling $16,000,000 Payroll Tax Audit

Williams Parker shareholder Mike Wilson recently led a Williams Parker team in the representation of several affiliated taxpayers that were under a combined audit by the Internal Revenue Service (the “Service”) in connection with the taxpayers’ treatment of several thousand workers as partners, instead of as employees or independent contractors, for payroll tax purposes over multiple years. By characterizing their workers as partners, the taxpayers’ took the position that the workers’ compensation was not reportable on Form W-2 or subject to withholding or payroll tax obligations. Instead, the compensation was a guaranteed payment, reportable on the workers’ Schedule K-1, and subject to self-employment tax to be paid by the workers. Not surprisingly, the Service took a very aggressive position regarding the classification of the workers as partners, arguing they were properly characterized as employees. With an exposure for the taxpayers of approximately $16,000,000 of tax, interest, and penalties, Williams Parker was able to settle the four-year dispute with the Service for approximately 12 percent of such amount.

2704 Regulations Explained: Proposed Rules Are Set to Further Expand Value Differences between Family-Controlled Entities and Other Companies

The IRS is focused on reducing valuation discounts associated with transfers of interests in family-controlled businesses, but this focus will result in family members being deemed to receive a different value than non-family members.  This also means that an appraiser will be required to establish two different values based on ignoring certain restrictions for family members, while taking those same restrictions into consideration for non-family members.

Consider, for example, a trust that provides that 50 percent of a decedent’s family-controlled business interest will go to charity and the remaining 50 percent will go to family members.  The IRS will be expecting that the interest being conveyed to the family members to result in a higher value when compared to the same percentage interest being conveyed to charity.  This ultimately means that the interest conveyed to family will result in higher estate taxes and the interest conveyed to charity will result in a smaller charitable deduction for estate tax purposes.  The end result is the IRS receives more estate tax from the estate even though the same restrictions apply to all members (both the family members and charity).

This post is part of a series of blog posts addressing the proposed 2704 regulations and the parties that should be reviewing their plans as a result.

View previous posts:

Thomas J. McLaughlin
tmclaughlin@williamsparker.com
941-536-2042

2704 Regulations Explained: Proposed Rules Negating Gift and Estate Tax Valuation Discounts May Ensnare Your Vacation Home Too

As mentioned in several recent posts, the proposed regulations under Code Section 2704 are aimed at reducing valuation discounts associated with transfers of interests in family-controlled businesses.  So that the proposed regulations capture certain entities that may be disregarded for federal income tax purposes, such as single-member limited liability companies, the definition of a family controlled entity under the regulations casts a wide net.  In fact, this net is so expansive that it has the ability to reach certain business arrangements that are significantly different from the typical family business.

Consider, for example, three siblings who own a vacation home as tenants-in-common.  Assume that the siblings have executed a co-tenancy agreement that restricts each tenant’s ability to partition and sell their interest (as many of these agreements do).  If this arrangement constitutes a controlled entity under the proposed regulations, then the regulations would apply to this co-tenancy arrangement in generally the same manner that they would apply to an active trade or business.  Should the proposed regulations apply, if a co-tenant transfers his or her interest in the vacation home (either during life or at death), the value of this interest for transfer tax purposes may be computed without regard to the restriction on partition in the co-tenancy agreement and, in turn, any valuation discounts that this restriction may warrant.  In this event, the application of the proposed regulations may result in a higher gift or estate tax value associated with this transfer.

This post is part of a series of blog posts addressing the proposed 2704 regulations and the parties that should be reviewing their plans as a result.

View previous posts:

Douglas J. Elmore
delmore@williamsparker.com
(941) 329-6637

2704 Regulations Explained: Winners and Losers of Proposed §2704 Regulations, Is the IRS a Loser?

The recently issued proposed regulations under Code Section 2704 are specifically targeted at substantially reducing valuation discounts associated with family-controlled businesses.  The clear losers are the families that have taxable estates. These families will likely pay additional estate and gift tax once the §2704 regulations are finalized. In order to reduce the impact that will occur when the regulations are finalized, families that have taxable estates should review their existing plans to determine whether planning now could save them substantially later.

The IRS is likely to win in the long run, but the increased estate and gift tax revenue will be offset to an extent by a reduction in income tax.  In addition, courts have been reluctant to go along with the IRS’s past attempts to substantially change the value of a family-controlled business. Accordingly, if the IRS finalizes the regulations without substantial changes, we can expect multiple challenges to be forthcoming from taxpayers, which could further reduce what the IRS likely perceives as a significant revenue booster.

The clear winners are the family business owners that do not have taxable estates ($5.45MM on an individual basis and $10.9MM for a married couple) because the proposed regulations should allow their family to receive a larger step up in the income tax basis of the business, and in some cases the business’ assets, when they pass away.

This post is part of a series of blog posts addressing the proposed 2704 regulations and the parties that should be reviewing their plans as a result.

View previous posts:

Thomas J. McLaughlin
tmclaughlin@williamsparker.com
941-536-2042

2704 Regulations Explained: Why is the IRS Targeting Valuation Discounts on Family Controlled Entities?

The simple answer is that the IRS believes that valuation discounts taken on family controlled entities are falsely high, which results in lower transfer tax revenue to the Treasury.  With the foregoing in mind, it is important to understand how the IRS, courts, and taxpayers value a business interest under current law for estate and gift tax purposes.  The general rule for a valuation is to determine the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, both of whom have reasonable knowledge of the facts and neither of whom is compelled to complete the transaction.

The courts and the IRS have recognized that discounts should be allowed where the property transferred is a minority interest in an entity that cannot force or compel the entity to act (“lack of control”) and where there is a limited market for the property (“lack of marketability”).  Taxpayers and their planners began to take advantage of this knowledge by adjusting their entity’s governing documents to increase the discounts available when transferring interests to family members.  In 1990, Congress enacted Code Sections 2701 through 2704, known as Chapter 14, to quell what was seen by some as aggressive, and in some cases abusive, uses of these discounts to reduce transfer tax values especially when many of the restrictions imposed had limited or no significant substantive effect because the family had the ability to fully control the entity and eliminate the restrictions at its will.  Since Chapter 14 became effective, the IRS has slowly seen Chapter 14’s impact dwindle due to court decisions and changes in state law.  As a result, the Treasury began seeking legislative changes to Chapter 14; however, these changes were not getting traction in Congress after several years.  The proposed regulations are Treasury’s response to the inaction of Congress and an attempt to substantially reduce discounts that the Treasury believes to be an estate and gift tax planning fiction.

Over the next several weeks we will be providing a series of blog posts addressing the proposed regulations and a synopsis of the parties that should be reviewing their plans as a result of the regulations.

Thomas J. McLaughlin
tmclaughlin@williamsparker.com
941-536-2042

Tax Court Approves Non-Safe-Harbor “Reverse” 1031 Exchange Even Though Titleholder Had No Ownership Benefits or Burdens

A 1031 Exchange is a popular capital gains deferral strategy for business and investment property. Taxpayers use the strategy to defer capital gains tax on property “sold” by acquiring “like kind” replacement property, usually in coordination with an intermediary or accommodation party.

After deliberating for a decade, the U.S. Tax Court has held that an accommodation party with no benefits or burdens of ownership can hold title to real property outside the established IRS “reverse” 1031 Exchange safe harbor without disqualifying the taxpayer’s 1031 Exchange.  The case arose from transactions spanning from 1999 to early 2001, before the IRS issued its safe harbor ruling for such transactions.  The accommodation party held the potential 1031 Exchange replacement property for over one year (longer than the 180-day period allowed by the IRS safe harbor) before transferring it to the taxpayer, following the taxpayer’s sale of its intended relinquished property.  During this period, the taxpayer funded all costs (including acquisition and construction costs) associated with the property, and entered into arrangements that constructively prevented the titleholder from realizing the benefits of owning the property.

The “owner” of property for federal income tax purposes usually is the party with the “benefits and burdens” of ownership, not legal title.  Application of that standard would have disqualified the 1031 Exchange by treating the taxpayer as owning the replacement property before acquiring the relinquished property. But the Tax Court found that different rules apply in the 1031 Exchange context, such that the arrangement was acceptable to treat the temporary accommodation titleholder as the income tax owner until the taxpayer completed its 1031 Exchange.

The Tax Court’s reasoning relied heavily on a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the appellate court with jurisdiction over California and other western states.  While the Tax Court also relied on other precedent, there remains a risk cases in other geographic areas could have different outcomes.  The case is nevertheless significant, bolstering the substantial flexibility taxpayers enjoy in structuring 1031 Exchanges.

Here is a link to the Tax Court opinion in Estate of Bartell v. Commissioner: http://www.ustaxcourt.gov/USTCInOP/OpinionViewer.aspx?ID=10868.

IRS Continues Push to Prohibit Tax-Exempt Bond Financing for Developer-Controlled CDDs and Similar Political Subdivisions

Real estate developers routinely use tax-exempt bond financing for infrastructure improvements for new communities. That may change soon. IRS perceives abuse in the process, and has proposed regulations making such bonds taxable if the developer controls the issuing governmental body.

Using enabling statutes under state law, a developer can initiate creation of a governmental body with the power to issue bonds secured by the developer’s land.  Although other types exist, Community Development Districts (often called “CDDs”) are the most common governmental body formed this way in Florida.

Such governmental bodies have historically qualified to issue municipal bonds exempt from federal income tax.  Because investors demand a lower absolute interest rate from tax exempt bonds than taxable bonds, these structures allow developers to enjoy a lower financing cost than would otherwise be the case.

The governing officials for such bodies usually are elected through a voting process weighted based on land ownership. In the early phases of development, the developer owns most or all of the land, and therefore controls the governmental body. When the neighborhood is closer to completion–and end-users have purchased lots and other developed property–the developer loses control, and the new property owners oversee the governmental body.

The problem with the IRS proposed regulations is that the developer always controls the governmental body when making the initial infrastructure improvements–such as roads and utility infrastructure–for a community. At that time, there is no community in which end users can buy lots, homes, or other property.  By prohibiting developer control, the proposed regulations could eliminate–or severely restrict–this form of financing.

The IRS is considering  taxpayer comments suggesting an exemption from the new rules for early-stage developments under developer control. This may provide a middle ground that limits abuse, but permits legitimate infrastructure improvements by governmental bodies that are reasonably expected to eventually be controlled by a widely disbursed group of end-user owners. As usual, the devil is in the details. For example, it may be difficult to fit larger, multi-phase communities within such rules. Unfortunately, with these proposed regulations, the IRS has put the burden on taxpayers, rather than itself, to design a workable framework. Comments are due to IRS by May 23.

Here is a link to the proposed regulations: https://www.irs.gov/irb/2016-10_IRB/ar17.html

 E. John Wagner, II
jwagner@williamsparker.com
941-536-2037

Independent Contractor or Employee? That is the Question!

A person can provide services to a company as an employee or an independent contractor depending upon the nature of the relationship between the service provider and the company. Misclassification of employees as independent contractors remains a primary focus of many government agencies, including the IRS, U.S. Department of Labor, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Reemployment Assistance Programs, and Florida’s Division of Workers’ Compensation.  Investigations by these agencies can be extremely costly, time-consuming, and even lead to personal liability and criminal penalties!

The presentation in the following link explains the detailed federal and Florida tests that are used by these four agencies to properly classify service providers.  It also provides practical examples in which the tests can be applied.  Additionally, the presentation includes guidance to help mitigate the potential for employer liability regarding other wage and hour complexities and pitfalls.

Independent Contractor or Employee? That is the Question!

Gail E. Farb
gfarb@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2557