§318 Option Attribution: Main Rule
Under §318(a)(4), “if any person has an option to acquire stock, such stock shall be considered as owned by such person.” For the purposes of §318 option attribution rules, an option to acquire an option to acquire stock is also considered an option to acquire stock. Id. It does not matter whether the option to acquire an option is granted by the corporation or by a shareholder.
Additionally, a series of options to acquire an option to acquire stock is considered an option to acquire stock Id.; in other words, the owner of a series of options is the constructive owner of the stock. That is the subject of this series.
Let’s use the following example to illustrate §318 option attribution: A and B each own 10 shares in X, a C-corporation; A has an option to acquire 5 shares of X owned by B; A also has an option to acquire an option to acquire B’s other 5 shares of X; finally, A has an option to acquire 5 unissued shares of X. The issue is: how many shares does A own?
By applying the rules above, A would actually and constructively own a total of 25 shares: 10 shares that he actually owns and 15 shares the he constructively owns under §318(a)(4) (all 10 shares of X owned by B plus 5 unissued shares of X).
§318 Option Attribution: Special Case of Convertible Debentures
Pursuant to Rev. Rul. 68-601, an owner of a convertible debenture (i.e. a debenture that can be converted into stock of a corporation) is deemed to be in the same position as a an option owner for the purposes of §318(a)(4) as long as he has the right to obtain the stock at his election. In other words, an owner of such a convertible debenture is a constructive owner of the stock into which the debenture can be converted.
Moreover, by drawing an analogy to the main §318 option attribution rule, an option to acquire a convertible debenture would be treated in the same manner under §318 as an option to acquire an option to acquire stock. Hence, the owner of an option to acquire a convertible debenture is a constructive owner fo the stock into which this debenture can be converted.
§318 Option Attribution vs. §318 Family Member Attribution
There are certain situations where stocks may be attributed to an individual under both, §318(a)(1) (i.e. family attribution rules) and the §318(a)(4) (i.e. option attribution rules). Since there are differences in legal effect, it is important to understand which rule governs in such situations.
Under §318(a)(5)(D), §318 option attribution supercedes the §318 family attribution. In other words, where an individual is deemed to be a constructive owner of shares under both rules, only the §318 option constructive ownership rules will apply to him.
This primacy of option attribution over family attribution may have a highly important tax impact in certain situations, such as the tax treatment of redemption of stock by a corporation. Let’s analyze an example to illustrate the disparate impact of these two attribution rules in the context of the §302(c)(2) waiver.
Let’s use the following hypothetical situation: W, an individual, owns 10 shares of X, a C-corporation; her husband, H, owns the remaining 40 shares of X; W has an option to purchase all of H’s shares of X. W redeems all l0 shares of X with the idea to establish a complete termination of her interest in the corporation once she waives the attribution of H’s shares to her by using the §302(c)(2) waiver (we assume here that she also fulfills all other requirements under §302). Will this strategy work in this case?
The answer is no. The problem is that the waiver under §302(c)(2) is available only for attribution from a family member. While it is true that W is a constructive owner of H’s 40 shares by the operation of family attribution rules, she is also the constructive owner of the same shares under the §318 option attribution rules. Since option attribution supercedes family attribution, she cannot use the §302 waiver. This means that W cannot establish a complete termination of her interest in X and the redemption of her 10 stocks will be treated as a dividend (with no cost-basis offset against the proceeds) as opposed to a sale.
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