One of the major requirements that gives rise to the obligation to file the FBAR is that a U.S. person has either a financial interest in, or a signature authority or other comparable authority over the relevant foreign financial accounts. In deciding whether the FBAR is required, it is useful to go through all three of these requirements in order.
First, the filer needs to determine whether he has a financial interest in the account. If the account is owned by an individual, the financial interest exists if the filer is the owner of record or has legal title in the financial account, whether the account is maintained for his own benefit or for the benefit of others, including non-U.S. persons. See 75 Fed. Reg. at 8847. Hence, if the owner of record or holder of legal title is a U.S. person acting as an agent, nominee, or in some other capacity on behalf of another U.S. person, the financial interest in the account exists and this agent or nominee needs to file the FBAR. If a corporation is the owner of record or the holder of legal title in the financial account, a shareholder of a corporation has a financial interest in the account if he owns, directly or indirectly, more than 50 percent of the total value of the shares of stock or has more than 50 percent of the voting power. Id. Where a partnership is the owner of record or the holder of legal title in the financial account, a partner has a financial interest in the financial account if he owns, directly or indirectly, more than 50 percent of the interest in profits or capital. Similar rule applies to any other entity (other than a trust) where a U.S. person owns, directly or indirectly, more than 50 percent of the voting power, total value of the equity interest or assets, or interest in profits. Id. Special rules apply to trust and can be found in the Proposed Regulations. Id. Finally, a U.S. person who “causes an entity to be created for a purpose of evading the reporting requirement shall have a financial interest in any bank, securities, or other financial account in a foreign country for which the entity is the owner of record or holder of legal title.” Id.
If there is no financial interest in the foreign financial account, the filer should determine whether he has signature authority over the account. A U.S. person has account signature authority if that person can control the disposition of money or other property in the account by delivery of a document containing his signature to the bank or other person with whom the account is maintained. See 75 Fed. Reg. at 8848. Notice, once again, that control over the disposition of assets in the account is one of the main factors in deciding whether the FBAR needs to be filed.
It is important to mention that, pursuant to the IRS Announcement 2010-23, persons with signature authority over, but no financial interest in, a foreign financial accounts for which an FBAR would otherwise have been due on June 30, 2010, will now have until June 30, 2011, to report those foreign financial accounts. Combined with IRS Announcement 2009-62, this means that the deadline has been extended for the calendar year 2009 and all prior years.
Finally, even if no financial interest or signature authority exists, the filer has to continue his analysis and determine whether he has “other comparable authority” over the account. This catch-all, ambiguous term is not defined by the IRS. Nevertheless, the instructions to FinCEN Form 114 formerly Form TD F 90-22.1 generally state that the other comparable authority exists when the filer can exercise power comparable to the signature authority over the account by communication with the bank or other person with whom the account is maintained, either directly or through an agent, or in some other capacity on behalf of the U.S. person.