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US Information Returns: Introduction | International Tax Lawyer Minnesota

In this article, I would like to introduce the readers to the concept of US information returns; I will also explore the differences between US information returns and US tax returns.

US Information Returns: Two Types of Returns

US tax system is a self-assessment system where taxpayers must file certain forms or returns developed by the IRS in order to report information required by the Internal Revenue Code and the Treasury Regulations. The Internal Revenue Code specifies the due date for these returns.

There are two primary types of returns: tax returns and information returns. A tax return is a form that a taxpayer uses to compute the tax that he owes to the IRS. A tax return requires the taxpayer to set forth the relevant information and amounts for this computation.

On the other hand, the IRS requires US taxpayers to file information returns in order to obtain information on transactions and payments to taxpayers that may affect the information reflected on tax returns. In other words, the IRS uses information returns not to compute the tax liability, but obtain information (or verification of information) to make sure that the tax returns were properly filed.

US Information Returns: Hybrid Returns

This ideal distinction between the two types of returns is often not preserved. Instead, there are many hybrid returns which possess the features of both, tax returns and information returns. For example, Part III of Form 1040 Schedule B is an information return which forms part of the overall tax return (i.e. Form 1040). Similarly, Form 8621 is a US international information return that is a hybrid return for the reporting of ownership of PFICs and calculation of PFIC tax at the same time.

US Information Returns: Domestic vs. International

The information returns are subdivided into two categories: domestic and international. The domestic information returns are usually filed by third parties with respect to US-source income or income under the supervision of a domestic financial institution. For example, US brokers provide Forms 1099-INT to report US-source interest income and foreign interest income that the taxpayer earned by investing through a domestic financial institution.

It should be mentioned that, due to the implementation of FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), some foreign subsidiaries of US banks also began to issue Forms 1099 to US taxpayers with respect to foreign income from their foreign accounts. The most prominent example is Citibank. However, this is a tiny minority of foreign financial institutions at this point.

On the other hand, international information returns primarily report information concerning foreign assets, foreign income and foreign transactions; there are even information returns concerning foreign owners of US businesses. Usually, these returns are filed not by third parties, but by taxpayers directly – individuals, businesses, trusts and estates. For example, Form 5471 is an international tax return which US taxpayers must file to report their ownership of a foreign corporation, its financial statements and its certain transactions.

US Information Returns: High Civil Penalties

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of information returns are high noncompliance civil penalties. This is very different from tax returns.

The tax return civil penalties are calculate based on a taxpayer’s unpaid income tax liability. The worst case scenario is a civil fraud penalty of 75% of unpaid tax liability. This is followed by negligence, failure-to-file and accuracy penalties.

The noncompliance penalties for information returns, however, do not depend on whether there was ever any tax liability connected with the failure to file an accurate information return; in fact, many information return penalties are imposed in a situation where there is no income tax noncompliance at all. This is logical, because pure information returns would never have any income tax noncompliance directly related to them.

Hence, in order to enforce compliance with information returns, the IRS imposes objective noncompliance penalties per each unfiled or incorrect information return. This divorce between income tax noncompliance and information return penalties, however, may produce extremely unjust results. For example, a failure to file a Form 5471 for a foreign corporation which never produced any revenue may result in the imposition of a $10,000 penalty.

It should be emphasized that the domestic information return penalties are much smaller in size than those imposed for noncompliance with international information returns. Again the logic is clear: since the temptation to avoid compliance with US international tax laws is much greater overseas, the Congress wanted to raise the stakes for such noncompliant taxpayers in order to make the risk of noncompliance intolerable for most taxpayers.

US Information Returns: Special Case of FBAR

The IRS may impose the most severe penalties out of all information returns for a failure to file a correct FinCEN Form 114, commonly known as “FBAR”. The paradox of these penalties is that FBAR is not a tax form, but a Bank Secrecy Act information return. FBAR was created to fight financial crimes, not for tax enforcement. Its penalties were originally meant to deter and punish criminals, not induce self-compliance with US tax laws – this is precisely why FBAR penalties may easily exceed the penalties imposed with respect to any other US international information return.

So, why is the IRS able to impose use FBAR as a tax information return and impose FBAR penalties? The reason is that the US Congress turned over FBAR enforcement to the IRS after September 11, 2001. Since then, even though FBAR is not part of the Internal Revenue Code, the IRS has used this form as an information return for tax purposes.

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§318 Downstream Trust Attribution | Foreign Trust Tax Lawyer & Attorney

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

Treas. Reg. §1.318-3 stated that, in determining a beneficiary’s actuarial interest in a trust, the IRS will use the factors and methods prescribed (for estate tax purposes) in 26 CFR § 20.2031-7.

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.

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§318 Upstream Estate Attribution | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

This article continues a series of articles concerning the constructive ownership rules of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §318. Today’s focus is on the §318 upstream estate attribution rules.

§318 Estate Attribution Rules: Downstream Attribution vs. Upstream Attribution

There are two types of the IRC §318 estate attribution rules: downstream and upstream. In a previous article, I discussed the downstream attribution rules concerning attribution of ownership of corporate stocks held by an estate to its beneficiaries. This brief article focuses on the upstream attribution rules, which means rules governing the attribution to the estate of corporate stocks held by its beneficiaries.

§318 Upstream Estate Attribution: Main Rule

The IRC §318(a)(3)(A) states the general rule for the upstream estate attribution of beneficiaries’ corporate stock: irrespective of the proportion of his beneficiary interest in the estate, all corporate stocks owned directly or indirectly by a beneficiary are deemed to be owned by the estate.

Notice the difference here between the downstream and the upstream estate attribution rules. §318 downstream estate attribution rules attribute the ownership of corporate stock proportionately from an estate to its beneficiaries. The upstream attribution rules under §318, however, completely disregard the proportionality rule; instead, all of the stocks of a beneficiary are attributed to the estate even if he has only 1% interest in the estate.

For example, let’s suppose that W owns 100 shares in corporation X; then, H dies and leaves one-tenth of his property to W. Due to the fact that W is a beneficiary of H’s estate, the estate constructively owns all of W’s 100 shares in X.

§318 Upstream Estate Attribution: No Re-Attribution

I already stated this rule in another article on estate attribution, but it is also important to re-state it here. §318 estate attribution rules contain a prohibition on re-attribution of stocks. Under §318(a)(5)(C), a beneficiary’s stock constructively owned by an estate through the operation of the §318 estate attribution rules cannot be attributed to another beneficiary.

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§318 Estate Beneficiary Definition | US International Tax Law Firm

The Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §318 contains corporate stock attribution rules between an estate and its beneficiaries. In order to apply these rules correctly, one must understand how §318 defines “beneficiary” for the purposes of upstream and downstream estate attribution rules. This articles will introduce the readers to this §318 estate beneficiary definition.

§318 Estate Beneficiary Definition: General Rule

Treas. Regs. §1.318-3(a) defines “beneficiary” for the purposes of §318 attribution rules (on a separate note, pursuant to Rev. Rul. 71-353, the attribution rules for the personal holding company provisions, collapsible corporation provisions (now repealed), and affiliated group provisions also use this definition of a beneficiary).

Treas. Regs. §1.318-3(a) states that “the term beneficiary includes any person entitled to receive property of a decedent pursuant to a will or pursuant to laws of descent and distribution.” Hence, in order to be considered a beneficiary under §318 , a person must have a direct present interest in the property of the estate or in income generated by that property.

Moreover, a person entitled to property not subject to administration by the executor is not a beneficiary for purposes of the §318 estate attribution rules unless the property is subject to the executor’s claim for a share of the federal estate tax.

§318 Estate Beneficiary Definition: Certain Specific Cases

This definition of beneficiary produces interesting results in some specific cases which are actually quite common.

Let’s first see the result of the application of the §318 estate beneficiary definition to life estates. A person with a life estate in estate property is a beneficiary. On the other hand, if a person owns only a remainder interest (i.e. an interest that vests only after the death of the life tenant), then he is not a beneficiary.

A beneficiary of life insurance proceeds is not considered a beneficiary for the §318 estate attribution rule purposes. This is because this is not a property subject to administration by the executor.

Similarly, an executor or administrator is usually not a beneficiary simply by virtue of occupying either of these positions. The main exception to this rule is a situation where an executor or administrator is otherwise considered a beneficiary.

Finally, a residuary testamentary trust presents a very interesting and complex issue. Under Rev. Rul. 67-24, it may be treated as a beneficiary of an estate before the residue of the estate is actually transferred to it. Moreover, it appears that such a trust (in that case, it was an unfunded testamentary trust) needs to worry about the §318(a)(3)(B) trust attribution rules.

§318 Estate Beneficiary Definition: Cessation of Beneficiary Status

It is important to note that §318 estate attribution rules cease to operate with respect to a person who stops being a beneficiary. See Tres. Reg. §1.318-3(a). There is an exception to this rule though: pursuant to Rev. Rul. 60-18, a residuary legatee does not stop being a beneficiary until the estate is closed. “Residual legatee” is a person named in a will to receive any residue left in an estate after the bequests of specific items are made.

When does a person stop being a beneficiary for the purposes of §318? Treas. Reg. Reg. §1.318-3(a) sets forth the following criteria that must be met for a person to no longer be considered a beneficiary: (a) the person has received all property to which he is entitled; (b) ”when he no longer has a claim against the estate arising out of having been a beneficiary”; and (c) “when there is only a remote possibility that it will be necessary for the estate to seek the return of property or to seek payment from him by contribution or otherwise to satisfy claims against the estate or expenses of administration”.

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§318 Downstream Estate Attribution | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

This article continues a series of articles on the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §318 constructive ownership rules. Today, the topic is §318 estate attribution rules – i.e. attribution of ownership of corporate stock from estate to its beneficiaries and vice versa. Since this is a long topic, I will divide it into three articles. This article focuses on the §318 downstream estate attribution rules.

§318 Estate Attribution Rules: Two Types

There are two types of the IRC §318 estate attribution rules: downstream and upstream. The downstream attribution rules attribute the ownership of corporate stocks owned by an estate to its beneficiaries. On the other hand, the upstream attribution rules attribute the ownership of corporate stocks owned by beneficiaries to the estate. As I stated above, this article focuses on the first type – i.e. §318 downstream estate attribution rules.

§318 Downstream Estate Attribution: Attribution from Estate to Beneficiary

Under the IRS §318(a)(2)(A), corporate stock owned directly or indirectly by or on behalf of an estate is deemed to be owned proportionately by its beneficiaries. It is very important to understand that the actual disposition of estate property by the testator does not matter to the proportionate attribution of estate property between the beneficiaries. Thus, even if the will demands that all corporate stocks be inherited by only one beneficiary, the ownership of these stocks will be attributed to all beneficiaries in proportion to their respective interests in the estate.

Three questions arise with respect to the application of this §318 downstream estate attribution rule: (1) What stocks are considered to be owned by the estate? (2) Who is deemed to be a beneficiary of an estate? and (3) How does the proportionality rule work?

§318 Downstream Estate Attribution: Stocks Owned by Estate

Treas. Regs. §1.318-3(a) defines when an estate is deemed to be an owner of corporate stock for the §318 attribution purposes. It states that corporate stocks (as well as any other property) shall be considered as owned by an estate if “such property is subject to administration by the executor or administrator for the purpose of paying claims against the estate and expenses of administration.” This is the case even if the legal title to the stock vests immediately upon death in the decedent’s heirs, legatees, or devisees under local law. Id.

§318 Downstream Estate Attribution: Definition of a Beneficiary

I address the definition of a beneficiary for the §318 attribution purposes in more detail in another article. Here, I will only state the general rule.

Treas. Regs. §1.318-3(a) states that “the term beneficiary includes any person entitled to receive property of a decedent pursuant to a will or pursuant to laws of descent and distribution.” Hence, in order to be considered a beneficiary under §318, a person must have a direct present interest in the property of the estate or in income generated by that property.

§318 Downstream Estate Attribution: Proportionality

As in many other cases concerning attribution proportionality, there is very little guidance from the IRS and Treasury regulations concerning determination of a beneficiary’s proportionate interest in an estate. Hence, an attorney has a considerable freedom in determining the reasonable methodology with respect to the application of the proportionality requirement. It appears that one method may be particularly acceptable to the IRS: measuring the relative values of each beneficiary’s interest.

§318 Downstream Estate Attribution: No Re-Attribution

Similarly to many other IRC provisions concerning constructive ownership, §318 estate attribution rules contain a prohibition on re-attribution of stocks. Under §318(a)(5)(C), a beneficiary’s stock constructively owned by an estate through the operation of the §318 estate attribution rules cannot be attributed to another beneficiary.

§318 Downstream Estate Attribution: Example

Let’s conclude this article with an illustration of how the §318 downstream estate attribution rules actually work. The proposed hypothetical scenario is as follows: an estate owns 100 of the total 200 outstanding shares of X, a South Dakota C-corporation; A is entitled to 50% of the property of the estate and actually owns 24 shares of X; B owns 36 shares of X and has a life estate in the other 50% of the estate; and C owns 40 shares of X and only has a remainder interest in the estate after the death of B. Here is how the §318 estate attribution constructive rules would work in this case:

A actually owns 24 shares of X and constructively owns another 50 shares of X through his 50% beneficiary interest in the estate. In other words, A’s total ownership of X equals 74 shares.

B actually owns 36 shares of X and constructively owns another 50 shares of X through his life estate; his total number of shares of X equals 86.

Finally, C owns 40 shares of X only. He does not have any constructive ownership of any shares of X, because his remainder interest in the estate is not a present interest in the estate; hence, he is not a beneficiary of the estate.

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The constructive ownership rules of §318 are crucial to proper identification of US tax reporting requirements with respect domestic and especially foreign business entities. Hence, if you a beneficiary of an estate or an executor/administrator of an estate that owns stocks in a domestic or foreign corporation, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with §318 estate attribution rules.

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