§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation | US International Tax Attorney

This article explores the third main limitation on the general IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §318 corporate stock re-attribution rules – §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: What is “Sidewise Attribution”?

A sidewise attribution occurs when corporate stock owned by an owner of a business entity (or a beneficiary of a trust or estate) is first attributed to this business entity (or estate or trust) and then re-attributed again to another owner of the same business entity (or another beneficiary of the same trust or estate). In other words, stock deemed to be owned by an entity due to the ownership of that stock by an owner or beneficiary of the entity is re-attributed “sidewise” to another owner or beneficiary of the same entity.

Sidewise attribution may have far-reaching income tax and tax reporting consequences, because it may result in a person with no real ownership of a corporation being treated as an owner of this corporation’s stock simply because a member of another entity (in which the first person also has an ownership interest) happens to own corporate stock of this corporation.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: §318(a)(5)(C) Prohibition

§318(a)(5)(C) describes the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation. Under §318(a)(5)(C), stock constructively owned by a partnership, estate, trust or corporation pursuant to §318(a)(3) is not treated as owned by this partnership, estate, trust or corporation for the purpose of treating a partner, beneficiary, or shareholder as owner of the stock. In other words, the sidewise attribution limitation prevents re-attribution of corporate stock to an owner of an entity where such stock is constructively-owned by an entity solely by virtue of ownership of this stock by another owner of the entity.

Let’s look at the following example to illustrate the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: A and B are unrelated persons, they equally own a partnership P and A owns 100 shares of corporation X’s stock. In this situation, partnership P is a constructive owner of A’s 100 shares of X under §318(a)(3)(A). Without any sideways limitation, B would have been also treated as an owner of these 100 shares of X due to §318(a)(2)(A). Under §318(a)(5)(C), however, none of these stocks are attributed to B.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: Attribution from Actual Ownership Not Affected

It is important to emphasize that §318(a)(5)(C) applies only to the re-attribution of stock constructively owned as a result of the application of §318(a)(3). This prohibition does not affect the §318(a)(2) attribution of stock actually owned by an entity to its beneficiary, partner, or shareholder.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: Re-Attribution Under Other Rules

Additionally, stock constructively owned under §318(a)(3) may still be re-attributed under an attribution rule other than §318(a)(2). In other words, stock constructively owned under §318(a)(3) may still be re-attributed under the upstream corporate attribution rules or the option attribution rules of §318(a)(4) (see Treas. Reg. §1.318-4(c)(2)).

Moreover, re-attribution under the §318 family attribution rules still possible. A potential situation for such re-attribution would arise in a situation where corporate stock is attributed from an entity to its member and from this member to a qualified family member of the same entity. Berenbaum v. Commissioner, 369 F.2d 337 (10th Cir. 1966), rev’g T.C. Memo 1965-147.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to understand better the interaction between the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation and the re-attribution rules other than §318(a)(2).

Here is the first hypothetical fact pattern: A is a beneficiary of a trust T, B is another beneficiary of T, T is a beneficiary of an estate, and A owns 100 shares of a C-corporation X. Under §318(a)(3)(B), T is a constructive owner of 100 shares of X. Since T is a constructive owner of A’s shares of X, these shares are re-attributed to the estate under §318(a)(3)(A); §318(a)(5)(C) does not apply to this type of a re-attribution since it is not a sidewise attribution. On the other hand, the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation would prevent the re-attribution of A’s shares of X to B that otherwise would have occurred under §318(a)(2)(B).

Note, however, that, if B is A’s son (or other qualified relative under the §318 family attribution rules), then the re-attribution of A’s stocks of X to B is possible under §318(a)(1)(A).

Let’s now look at another fact pattern to understand the power of the option rule attribution vis-a-vis §318(a)(5)(C): A and B are beneficiaries of a trust T; T has an option to buy corporate stock from A. The most important point to understand here is the fact that T is considered here as an owner of A’s stock not under the upstream trust attribution rules of §318(a)(3)(B), but under the option attribution rules of §318(a)(4). Hence, the sidewise attribution limitation under §318(a)(5)(C) does not apply and B becomes a constructive owner of a his proportional part of A’s stock under the downstream trust attribution rules of §318(a)(2)(B).

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