The attribution of stock ownership to constructive owners is a highly important feature of US domestic and international tax law. The Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §318 contains complex constructive ownership rules concerning corporate stock; these rules vary depending on a specific §318 relationship. This article focuses on an important category of §318 relationships – trusts. Since these rules are very broad, I will discuss today only the §318 downstream trust attribution rules; the upstream rules and important exceptions to both sets of rules will be covered in later articles.
§318 Trust Attribution: Downstream vs. Upstream Attribution
Similarly to other §318 attribution rules, there are two types of §318 trust attribution: downstream and upstream. The downstream attribution rules attribute the ownership of corporate stocks owned by a trust to its beneficiaries. The upstream attribution rules are exactly the opposite: they attribute the ownership of corporate stocks owned by beneficiaries to the trust. As I stated above, this article focuses on the downstream attribution.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Attribution from Trust to Beneficiary
Under §318(a)(2)(B)(i), corporate stocks owned, directly or indirectly, by or for a trust are considered owned by the trust’s beneficiaries in proportion to their actuarial interests in the trust.
Notice that the size of the actuarial interest does not matter. Moreover, §318(a)(2)(B) will apply even if the beneficiary does not have any present interest in a trust, but only a remainder interest (also calculated on an actuarial basis). This rule is the exact opposite of the §318 estate attribution rules.
Furthermore, the decision to attribute shares based on the actuarial interest, rather than actual one, may result in a paradoxical result where stocks are attributed to a person who will never become the actual owner of the shares.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Determination of Actuarial Interest
The attribution of shares from the trust to its beneficiary should be made on the basis of the beneficiary’s actuarial interest at the time of the transaction affected by the stock ownership.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Unstable Proportionality
The adoption of the attribution of stock based on the actuarial interest in a trust creates a constant calculation problem for beneficiaries, because the actuarial interest of the beneficiary in a trust varies from year to year. The variation of actuarial interest means that the number of shares attributed from a trust to its beneficiary will change every year.
For example, the actuarial interest of a beneficiary with a life estate in a trust will decrease every year as he ages. On the other hand, the actuarial interest of the owner of the remainder interest in the trust will increase with each year. Hence, the number of stocks attributed to the life tenant will decrease each year, while the attribution of stocks to the holder of the remainder interest will increase each year.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Special Presumption Concerning Power of Appointment
Based on 95 Rev. Proc. 77-37, §3.05 (operating rules for private letter rulings), the IRS has adopted a special presumption with respect to when children will be considered beneficiaries for the purpose of §318 trust attribution rules. In order to understand this rule, we need to describe the setting in which it will most likely apply.
Oftentimes, estate plans are set up where the surviving spouse will have a life interest in a trust’s income and a power of appointment over the trust corpus. In such situation, estate planners often insert a clause that, if a spouse fails to exercise the power of appointment, the trust corpus will automatically go to the children.
In this situation, the IRS stated that, absent evidence that the power of appointment was exercised differently, it is presumed that it was exercised in favor of the children. By adopting this presumption, the children are immediately considered beneficiaries for the purpose of the stock attribution rules under §318.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Planning to Avoid Attribution
In order to prevent the application of the trust attribution rules under §318, a beneficiary must renounce his entire interest in the trust. See Rev. Rul. 71-211. Such renunciation is valid only if it is irrevocable and binding under local law.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Special Case of Voting Trusts
Under Rev. Rul. 71-262 and CCA 200409001, §318(a)(2)(B) does not apply in the context of a voting trust (i.e. where trustee has the right to vote the stock held in trust, but the dividends are paid to the certificate holder). This is because the certificate holder is deemed to be the owner of the shares and there is no attribution of ownership from the trust.
§318 Downstream Trust Attribution: Grantor Trusts and Employee Trusts
While it is beyond the scope of this article to describe them in detail, there are special rules that apply to the attribution of stock from grantor trusts and employee trusts. I will discuss these rules in more detail in the future.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With US Tax Issues Concerning Foreign Trusts
If you are considered an owner or a beneficiary of a foreign trust, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US tax compliance issues. Our firm is highly experienced in US international tax law, including foreign trust compliance. We have also helped taxpayers around the world with their offshore voluntary disclosures involving foreign trusts.