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The Norman Case: Willful FBAR Penalty Upheld | FBAR Lawyers Miami

On November 8, 2019, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) upheld the decision of the Court of Federal Claims to uphold the IRS assessment of a willful FBAR penalty in the amount of $803,530 with respect to Ms. Mindy Norman’s failure to file her 2007 FBAR. The Norman case deserves special attention because of its facts and circumstances and how the Court interpreted them to uphold the willful FBAR penalty.

The Norman Case: Facts of the Case

Ms. Norman is a school teacher. In 1999, she opened a bank account with UBS bank in Switzerland. It was a “numbered account” – i.e. income and asset statements referred to the account number only; Ms. Norman’s name and address did not appear anywhere on the account statements. Between 2001 and 2008, the highest balance of the account ranged between about $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

The Court described how Ms. Norman was actively engaged in managing and controlling her account. She had frequent contacts with her UBS banker in person and over the phone; she decided how to invest her funds and she signed a request with UBS to prohibit investment in US securities on her behalf (which could have triggered a disclosure of the existence of the account to the IRS). In 2002, she withdrew between $10,000 and $100,000 in cash from the account. In 2008 she closed the account when UBS informed her that it would cooperate with the IRS in identifying noncompliant US taxpayers who engaged in tax fraud; it should also be noted that the IRS presented into evidence UBS client contact records which stated that Ms. Norman exhibited “surprise and displeasure” when she was informed about the UBS decision.

Sometime in the year 2008, Ms. Norman signed her 2007 US tax return which, it appears, contained a Schedule B which stated (in Part III) that she had no foreign accounts. Moreover, she signed this return after her accountant sent her a questionnaire with a question concerning foreign accounts.

Also in 2008, Ms. Norman obtained a referral to an accountant. It appears that the accountant advised her to do a quiet disclosure, filing her amended returns and late FBARs. The quiet disclosure triggered the subsequent IRS audit.

The Court found that, during the audit interview, Ms. Norman made numerous false statements, including denying the knowledge of the existence of her foreign account prior to 2009. She also submitted a letter to the IRS re-affirming her lack of knowledge about the existence of this account.

Then, after retaining an attorney, Ms. Norman completely reversed herself in her second letter, stating that she did in fact know about the existence of the account. She further explained that her failure to timely file her FBARs occurred due to her belief that none of the funds in the account were hers and she was not a de-facto owner of the account.

The Norman Case: Penalty Imposition and the Appeals

It appears that the false statements and radical shifts in claims about what she knew about her account completely damaged her credibility with the IRS agent in charge of the audit. Hence, the IRS found that Ms. Norman willfully failed to file her FBAR and assessed a penalty of $803,530.

Ms. Norman paid the penalty in full and filed a complaint with the Court of Federal Claims requesting a refund. The Court of Federal Claims sustained the penalty; hence, Ms. Norman appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court upheld the penalty imposition.

The Norman Case: Issues on the Appeal

Ms. Norman raised three issues on the appeal: (1) the Court of Federal Claims erred in finding that she willfully violated the FBAR requirement; (2) a 1987 Treasury regulation limits the FBAR willful penalty to $100,000; and (3) a penalty so high violates the 8th Amendment. The Court did not consider the 8th Amendment argument for procedural reasons.

The Norman Case: Recklessness as part of Willfulness

At the heart of the dispute over the imposition of the willful penalty was whether the IRS can use recklessness in its determination of willfulness. It is important to point out here that the IRS imposed the willful penalty even though it could not prove that Ms. Norman actually knew about the existence of FBAR. Rather, it relied on recklessness in its imposition of the willful FBAR penalty.

In the appeal, Ms. Norman argued that one can only violate the FBAR requirement if one has the actual knowledge of the existence of the form. She adopted a strict interpretation of willfulness as the one found in the Internal Revenue Manual (“IRM”): “willfulness is shown by the person’s knowledge of the reporting requirements and the person’s conscious choice not to comply with the requirements.”

The Court, however, did not agree with this interpretation. First of all, it pointed to the well-established law that the IRM is not binding in courts. The courts in several circuits have determined that recklessness should be considered as willfulness. Second, the IRM itself stated that actual knowledge of FBAR is not required for the imposition of a willful penalty. Rather, the IRM allowed for the possibility of the imposition of a willful penalty where the failure to learn about FBAR is combined with other factors, such as attempts to conceal the existence of the account and the amounts involved.

Then, the Court explained its reasoning for believing that Ms. Norman’s behavior was reckless: she opened the foreign account, actively managed it, withdrew money from it and failed to declare it on her signed 2007 tax return. The fact that Ms. Norman made contradictory and false statements to the IRS during the audit further damaged her credibility with respect to her non-willfulness claims.

The Norman Case: 1987 Treasury Regulation No Longer Valid

Ms. Norman also argued that a 1987 regulation limited the willful FBAR penalty to $100,000. The Court disagreed, because this regulation was rendered invalid by the language found in the 2004 amendment to 31 U.S.C. §5321(a)(5)(C).

The Norman Case: Most Important Lessons for Audited US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

The Norman case contains many important lessons for US taxpayers who have undisclosed foreign accounts and who are audited by the IRS. Let’s concentrate on the three most important ones.

First and foremost, do not lie to the IRS; lying to the IRS is almost certain to backfire. In the Norman case, the taxpayer had good facts on her side at the beginning, but her actions during the audit made them almost irrelevant. Ms. Norman’s false statements damaged her credibility not only with the IRS, but also with the courts. It made her appear as a person undeserving of sympathy; someone who deserved to be punished by the IRS.

Second, Ms. Norman fell prey to an incorrect advice from her accountant and did a quiet disclosure. Given how dangerous her situation was as a result of an impending disclosure of her foreign account by UBS, doing a quiet disclosure in 2008 was a mistake. Instead, a full open voluntary disclosure should have been done either through the traditional IRS voluntary disclosure option or a noisy disclosure (unfortunately, the 2009 OVDP was not yet an option in 2008).

Finally, the Norman case highlights the importance of having the appropriate professional counsel. During her quiet disclosure and the subsequent IRS audit Ms. Norman did not hire the right professional to assist her until it was too late – the damage to the case became irreversible. Instead of retaining the right international tax attorney, she chose to rely on an accountant. In the context of an offshore voluntary disclosure and especially an IRS audit involving offshore assets, relying on an accountant is almost always a mistake – only an experienced international tax attorney is right choice.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your US Tax Compliance and an IRS Audit Concerning Foreign Accounts and Foreign Income

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and you wish to resolve your US tax noncompliance before the IRS finds you, you need to secure competent legal help. If you are already subject to an IRS audit, then you need to retain an international tax attorney as soon as you receive the initial audit letter. As stated above, Ms. Norman paid a very high price for a failure to do so timely; you should avoid making this mistake.

For this reason, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our team of tax professionals headed by the highly experienced international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to resolve their prior US tax noncompliance issues and successfully conclude IRS international tax audits. We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process | FBAR Lawyer & Attorney

On November 19, 2019, the IRS announced changes to the current FBAR filing verification submission process. The change is technical, but not without importance.

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: FBAR Background Information

FBAR is a common name for FinCEN Form 114 (formerly known as TD F 90-22.1), Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. US Persons must use this form to report their ownership of or signatory authority or any other authority over foreign bank and financial accounts as long as these accounts’ aggregate balance exceeds the FBAR filing threshold. Despite its official name, the IRS has administered the form since 2001, not FinCEN.

FBAR is one of the most important US international information returns. FBAR noncompliance may lead to the imposition of severe civil and criminal penalties. Hence, it is of absolute importance for US persons to timely and properly file this form.

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: Rules Prior to November 19 2019

Prior to November 19, 2019, US persons who wanted to verify whether their FBARs were filed could obtain the relevant information for up to five FBARs by simply calling 1-866-270-0733 (the IRS FBAR Hotline) and selecting option 1. IRM 4.26.16.4.13(4). In this case, the IRS representatives would provide the verbal verification for free. The filers could make this request sixty days after the date of filing. Id.

If, however, a filer wished to request information concerning more than five forms or he wanted to obtain paper copies of filed FBARs, then he would need to do so in writing. For written verifications, there was a $5.00 fee for verifying five or fewer forms and a $1.00 fee for each additional form. Id. The IRS charged $0.15 per copy of the entire FBAR. Id. Written requests should have been accompanied by payment in accordance with IRM 4.26.16.4.13(4)(b).

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: New November 19 2019 Rules

On November 19, 2019, the IRS issued a memorandum which contained interim guidance concerning the process by which the IRS would accept the requests for FBAR filing verifications. The memorandum introduced the following revisions to the FBAR filing verification process.

Effective as of the date of this memorandum, the IRS no longer accepts verbal verification requests; all requests must be submitted in writing. Hence, the existing fee structure in IRM 4.26.16.4.13(4)(b) now applies to all verification requests.

The IRS has stated that this procedural change is necessary to provide documentary evidence of all verification inquiries and IRS response to them. This new interim guidance will be incorporated into IRM 4.26.16 within the next two years from the date of issuance of the memorandum.

New FBAR Filing Verification Submission Process: Making a Proper Written Request

The written request for FBAR filing verification should include the filer’s name, Taxpayer Identification Number, and filing period(s). Tax practitioners requesting verifications for their clients must also make these requests in writing, and provide a copy of the Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, authorizing them to receive the FBAR information. The same fee structure as described above (i.e. a $5.00 fee for verifying five or fewer forms, a $1.00 fee for each additional form, and copies for an additional fee of $0.15) will continue to apply. Checks or money orders should be made payable to the “United States Treasury”.

Written requests and payments for FBAR filing verifications and copies of filed FBARs should be mailed to:

IRS Detroit Federal Building
Compliance Review Team
Attn.: Verification
P.O. Box 32063
Detroit, MI 48232-0063

In response to written requests, the IRS will send a letter stating whether the record shows that an FBAR was filed and if so, the date filed. If a copy of a paper-filed FBAR was requested, a copy will be included with IRS letter.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with FBAR Compliance

The new FBAR filing verification process will be especially relevant in the context of offshore voluntary disclosures. Oftentimes, taxpayers do not have copies of their prior FBARs; and it is necessary to obtain these copies in order to properly calculate the penalty exposure as well as use them as evidence of non-willfulness (or find out if the IRS may use them as evidence of willfulness).

If you are required to file FBARs and you have not done so, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their FBAR compliance issues, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Child’s FBAR Requirements | FBAR Tax Lawyer & Attorney

I often receive questions concerning a child’s FBAR requirements. Many taxpayers automatically assume that, if their children are below the age of majority, these children do not have to file FBARs. Unfortunately, this is not the case – a child’s FBAR requirements are every bit as extensive of those of his parents.

Child’s FBAR Requirements: FBAR Background Information

A US Person must file FinCEN Form 114, the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account, commonly known as “FBAR”, if he has a financial interest in or a signatory authority or any other authority over a foreign financial account and the highest value of this account (in the aggregate with any other foreign accounts of this US person) is in excess of $10,000. FBAR is filed separately from the tax return.

Failure to file FBAR can lead to very high penalties. In fact, FBAR has the most severe penalty system in comparison to any other forms related to foreign accounts; it includes even criminal penalties. Even when a person was not willful in his non-filing of FBAR, he may still be subject to FBAR non-willful civil penalties of up to $10,000 (as adjusted for inflation) per account per year.

Child’s FBAR Requirements: Age Does Not Matter

The gruesome consequences of a failure to file FBAR make the determination of who is required to file FBARs one of the most important tasks of an international tax lawyer. This is why understanding a child’s FBAR requirements is so important. Let’s clarify this issue right now.

The rule is that a US Person is subject to the FBAR filing requirement regardless of his age. In other words, even an infant must file an FBAR.

Hence, it is important for an international tax lawyer (and his clients) to always check whether minor children have any foreign accounts. A typical fact pattern in this context involves situations where grandparents set up foreign savings accounts for their US grandchildren.

It is especially important to keep this in mind during an offshore voluntary disclosure. Oftentimes, a voluntary disclosure is focused on parents; children’s accounts are often neglected.

Child’s FBAR Requirements: FBAR Filing

Generally, a child is responsible for filing his own FBAR. Again, this responsibility arises irrespective of the age of the child.

The IRS understands, however, that a child would normally be unable to file his own FBARs. In such cases, the responsibility for filing FBARs is placed on the legally responsible person (such as parents, guardians, et cetera). The legally responsible person will be allowed to sign and file FBARs on behalf of the child.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office With Respect to Your Child’s FBAR Requirements

If your child has foreign accounts, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional FBAR help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with their FBAR obligations, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

FBAR Maximum Account Value Determination | FBAR Tax Lawyer & Attorney

Determination of the FBAR maximum account value is a problem with which every FBAR filer has to deal. In this article, I would like to provide the main guidelines for the determination of the FBAR maximum account value.

FBAR Maximum Account Value Determination: Background Information

The Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts or FBAR requires each filer to disclose his financial interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over foreign bank and financial accounts to the IRS. As part of this disclosure, the filer must calculate and report the maximum account value for each of his foreign accounts on his FBAR.

FBAR Maximum Account Value Determination: Definition of Highest Value

FinCEN defines the maximum value of an account for FBAR purposes as “a reasonable approximation of the greatest value of currency or nonmonetary assets in the account during the calendar year.” In other words, the IRS does not expect you to always get the highest possible value. A reasonable approximation of this value will do if the exact highest value is not possible to determine.

FBAR Maximum Account Value Determination: Usual Problems

There are two main problems that each FBAR filer faces whenever he tries to identify the maximum account value for FBAR purposes. The first and most obvious problem is the determination of the highest account value. How does one determine the highest value for a bank account? What about a securities account where stocks fluctuate all the time? What about a precious metals account which has investments in different precious metals?

Second, FBAR requires that all amounts be stated in US dollars. Hence, an issue arises with respect to proper currency conversion – i.e. what is the proper currency exchange rate? Should the spot rates be used? Or December 31 exchange rates?

Let’s discuss each of these problems in more depth.

FBAR Maximum Account Value Determination: Methodology

Determination of maximum account value depends to a certain degree on the type of an account for which the filer is trying to determine this value. There is no question that, with respect to checking and savings bank accounts, the IRS wants you to use the full-year statements to determine the day on which the highest value was achieved for each of these accounts. This is a simple and effective method.

Determining the maximum value of a securities account is much harder, because securities fluctuate on a daily basis. For this reason, the IRS allows you to rely on periodic account statements to make this determination, especially end-of-year statements. This method is allowed only as long as the statements fairly approximate the maximum value during the calendar year.

Even this method, however, is often insufficient when one deals with mixed-currency accounts, mixed-investment accounts, mixed-metal accounts, et cetera. These situations should be handled on a case-by-case basis by your international tax attorney.

Let’s illustrate the complexity of the issues involved here by a relatively simple example. Generally, an end-of-year statement for an investment account is a good approximation of the maximum value of the account. If, however, there was a withdrawal of funds from the account following a major sale of investments, then the end-of-year statement cannot be relied upon. Instead, one should try a different method to approximate the highest value. One possibility is to use a reliable and known financial website for valuing the remaining assets on the date of the sale plus the proceeds from the sale of investments. The method, however, may fail if the highest value of investments was at the beginning of the year, not the date of sale.

FBAR Maximum Account Value Determination: Currency Conversion

Unlike the identification of the highest account value with its various complications, the currency conversation part of the FBAR maximum account value determination is fairly straightforward. All filers must use the end-of-year FBAR rates published by the Treasury Department. These rates are officially called “Treasury Financial Management Service rates”, but they are commonly called “FBAR rates” by US international tax lawyers. The FBAR rates are division rates, not the multiplication ones. This is standard in US international tax law.

Hence, for the currency conversion purposes, you need to identify the currency in which your account is nominated, find the appropriate FBAR conversion rate for the relevant year and divide your highest balance by the relevant FBAR rate. For your convenience, Sherayzen Law Office also publishes FBAR rates on its website.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your FBAR Preparation

If you are required to file FBARs, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to comply with their FBAR obligations, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Joint Account FBAR Reporting | FBAR Tax Lawyer & Attorney

As an FBAR tax attorney, I constantly deal with the issues of joint account FBAR reporting. In most cases, the joint account FBAR reporting goes relatively smooth, but problems may surface from time to time. In this essay, I would like to address the general issues concerning joint account FBAR reporting.

Joint Account FBAR Reporting: FBAR Background

FBAR is the acronym for the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, FinCEN Form 114. A US person has to file an FBAR if he has a financial interest in or signatory authority or any other authority over foreign bank and financial accounts the aggregate value of which exceeds $10,000 at any point during the relevant calendar year.

It is important to emphasize that, with respect to joint accounts, each joint owner takes the entire value of the account in calculating whether he or she exceeded the $10,000 filing threshold.

A US person should file an FBAR separately from the tax return. Since 2016 FBAR, the Congress aligned the FBAR filing deadline with that of an income tax return (i.e. April 15). For example, the 2018 FBAR is due on April 15, 2019 (with an automatic extension until October 15, 2019 if needed).

Joint Account FBAR Reporting: Joint Owners

If two or more persons jointly maintain or own a partial interest in a foreign bank or financial account, then each of these persons has a financial interest in that account. Hence, as long as they are US persons, each of these US persons has to report the account on his or her FBAR.

Moreover, each of the filers must also indicate the principal joint owner of the joint account, even if this owner is not a US person. I wish to repeat this important point: the joint owner must be disclosed on FBAR even if he is not a US person. Besides the name of the joint owner, the filer must report the joint owner’s address and tax identification number (US or foreign).

Joint Account FBAR Reporting: Report the Entire Value of the Account

Even though the same joint account may be reported at least twice, FinCEN requires the FBAR filer to disclose the entire value of each jointly-owned foreign account on his FBAR.

Joint Account FBAR Reporting: Exception for Spouses

In certain circumstances, spouses may file a joint FBAR. This means that the spouse of an FBAR filer may not be required to file a separate FBAR, but she can join her husband in filing one FBAR for both of them.

In order to qualify for this exception, the spouses must meet the following three conditions. First and most important, all of the financial accounts that the non-filing spouse has to report are jointly owned with the filing spouse. The filing spouse may have additional accounts, but the non-filing spouse should not have any other foreign bank and financial accounts. Beware, however, that if one spouse is an owner of a foreign account, but the other spouse only has a signatory authority over the same account, then separate FBARs must be filed by each spouse.

Second, the filing spouse reports the jointly owned accounts on a timely filed FBAR and a PIN is used to sign item 44.

Third, both spouses must complete and sign Form 114a, a Record of Authorization to Electronically File FBARs (maintained with the filers’ records).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Joint Account FBAR Reporting

If you have foreign bank and financial accounts, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with US international tax compliance and FBAR reporting. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their FBAR filings, including joint FBAR filings, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!