Liechtenstein Stiftung: US Tax Classification | Foreign Trust Tax Lawyer

This article continues a series of articles on foreign trust classification with respect to various foreign entities. Today’s topic is the US tax treatment of a Liechtenstein Stiftung.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: Formation

A Liechtenstein Stiftung, or Foundation, is a legal entity under Liechtenstein law. It may be formed by filing a foundation charter or by will or testamentary disposition. A Stiftung is entered into the Register in Liechtenstein and must have a minimum amount of initial capital.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: Purpose

A Stiftung may be a family foundation established to provide benefits to members of a designated family or a charitable or religious foundation. A Stiftung cannot be organized to engage in the active conduct of a business, but Liechtenstein law provides that, in certain cases, commercial activities may be undertaken by a Stiftung if such activities serve its noncommercial purposes.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: Beneficiaries

A Stiftung exists for the benefit of those persons who are named as beneficiaries in its formation documents. The Founder transfers specific assets to the Stiftung that are then endowed for specific purposes. The assets pass from the personal estate of the Founder to the Stiftung.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: Governance

The Founder sets the objectives of a Stiftung and appoints its administrators which are organized into a Council of Members. The Founder may appoint himself as an administrator.

The duties and obligations of the administrators are set forth in the Stiftung’s articles and includes the conduct of the Stiftung’s affairs. This includes the investment and management of its assets and the distribution of income and/or capital to the beneficiaries as per the provisions of the Stiftung’s articles. Under Liechtenstein law, the administrators are responsible for the proper management and conservation of the Stiftung’s assets. The Founder may reserve for himself the right to discharge and appoint administrators.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: Limited Liability

A Stiftung only has legal liability up to the amount of its contributed capital and net assets and it cannot be made liable for liabilities in excess of them.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: Legal Background Under US Tax Law

26 CFR §301.7701-1(a) provides that the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) prescribes the classification of various organizations for federal tax purposes. Whether an organization is an entity separate from its owners for federal tax purposes is a matter of federal tax law and does not depend upon whether the organization is recognized as an entity under local law.

26 CFR §301.7701-1(b) of the regulations provides that the classification of organizations that are recognized as separate entities is determined under §§301.7701-2, 301.7701-3, and 301.7701-4 unless a provision of the Code provides for special treatment of that organization.

26 CFR §301.7701-4(a) of the regulations provides that, in general, the term “trust” as used in the Code refers to an arrangement created by will or by an inter vivos declaration whereby trustees take title to property for the purpose of protecting or conserving it for the beneficiaries under the ordinary rules provided in chancery or probate courts. Usually the beneficiaries of such a trust do no more than accept the benefits thereof and are not the voluntary planners or creators of the trust arrangement. However, the beneficiaries of such a trust may be the persons who create it and it will be recognized as a trust under the Code if it was created for the purposes of protecting or conserving the trust property for beneficiaries who stand in the same relation to the trust as they would if the trust had been created by others for them. Generally, an arrangement will be treated as a trust under the Code if it can be shown that the purpose of the arrangement is to vest in trustees responsibility for the protection and conservation of property for beneficiaries who cannot share in the discharge of this responsibility and, therefore, are not associates in a joint enterprise for the conduct of business for profit.

Furthermore, 26 CFR §301.7701-4(a) provides that there are other arrangements which are known as trusts because the legal title to property is conveyed to trustees for the benefit of beneficiaries, but which are not classified as trusts for purposes of the Code, because they are not simply arrangements to protect or conserve the property for the beneficiaries. These trusts, which are often known as business or commercial trusts, generally are created by the beneficiaries simply as a device to carry on a profit-making business which normally would have been carried on through business organizations that are classified as corporations or partnerships under the Code. However, the fact that the corpus of the trust is not supplied by the beneficiaries is not sufficient reason in itself for classifying the arrangement as an ordinary trust rather than as an association or partnership.

Thus, the fact that any organization is technically cast in the trust form, by conveying title to property to trustees for the benefit of persons designated as beneficiaries, will not change the real character of the organization if the organization is more properly classified as a business entity under §301.7701-2. Hence, foreign entities must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis to determine their true classification under US tax law.

Liechtenstein Stiftung: US Tax Treatment

The IRS has determined that, generally (and it is important to emphasize the word “generally”), a Liechtenstein Stiftung should be classified as a trust under US tax law. IRS Chief Counsel Advice Memorandum, AM 2009-012. The IRS believes that, in most cases, “the Stiftung’s primary purpose is to protect or conserve the property transferred to the Stiftung for the Stiftung’s beneficiaries and is usually not established primarily for actively carrying on business activities.” Id.

If, however, the facts and circumstances in a particular case indicate that “a Stiftung was established primarily for commercial purposes as opposed to the purpose of protecting or conserving property on behalf of the beneficiaries, the Stiftung in such case may be properly classified as a business entity under §301.7701-2(a).” Id.

Thus, a taxpayer who is a beneficiary or Founder of a Liechtenstein Stiftung must retain a US international tax lawyer to examine the specific facts and circumstances in each case in order to determine the US tax classification of a particular Stiftung.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help Concerning Proper US Tax Classification of a Liechtenstein Stiftung

Determining the proper classification of a Liechtenstein Stiftung is very important for its beneficiaries and Founders who are US tax residents, because such classification will have a direct impact on these taxpayers’ US international tax compliance, including determining whether Form 3520 or Form 5471 has to be filed.

This is why, if you are a beneficiary and/or a Founder of a Liechtenstein Stiftung, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US tax compliance. We have successfully helped US taxpayers from over 70 countries with their US international tax compliance issues, including classification of foreign business entities and foreign trusts. We can help you!

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§318 Employee Trust Attribution | Foreign Trust US Tax Law Firm

In a previous article, I explained special §318 rules concerning grantor trusts as an exception to the general §318 trust attribution rules. Today, I will discuss the special §318 employee trust attribution rules as another exception to the general §318 trust attribution rules.

§318 Employee Trust Attribution: Focus on Tax-Exempt Employee Trusts

First of all, it is important to define the type of employee trust which is the subject of today’s article. The focus is on employee trusts described in §401(a) and which are tax-exempt under §501(a), collectively “tax-exempt employee trusts”. In other words, we are discussing mostly trusts which were created under qualified pension, profit-sharing and stock bonus plans.

§318 Employee Trust Attribution: Main Rule – No Attribution to Tax-Exempt Employee Trusts

Under §§318(a)(2)(B)(i) and 318(a)(3)(B)(i), there is no downstream and upstream (respectively) attribution of stock between a tax-exempt employee trust and its beneficiaries. In other words, there is no §318 attribution of corporate stocks from a tax-exempt employee trust to its beneficiaries and there is no §318 attribution of corporate stocks from the beneficiaries to the trust.

Under §501(b), the non-attribution rule applies even in situations where a tax-exempt employee trust is subject to tax on its unrelated business income.

§318 Employee Trust Attribution: Certain Exceptions to Non-Attribution

The non-attribution rule with respect to tax-exempt employee trusts is reasonable and just. There are, however, certain exceptions to this rule.

A major exception concerns ESOP trusts. Under Petersen v. Commissioner, 924 F.3d 1111 (10th Cir. 2019), the non-attribution of stock ownership from tax-exempt trust to employee beneficiaries does not apply to certain ESOP trusts.

Moreover, certain tax-avoidance transactions will render the non-attribution rule inapplicable. For example, under §409(p)(3)(B), an individual is deemed to own stocks held by an ESOP trust for the purposes of determining whether there has been a prohibited allocation of S-corporation stock to a disqualified person.

§318 Employee Trust Attribution: Special Case of “Loss Corporations”

A “loss corporation” presents an interesting set of issues with respect to §318 employee trust attribution rules.

Let’s first define the loss corporation. The IRC §382(k)(1) provides the following definition of a loss corporation: “a corporation that is entitled to use a net operating loss carryover or having a net operating loss for the taxable year in which the ownership change occurs. Such term shall include any corporation entitled to use a carryforward of disallowed interest described in section 381(c)(20). Except to the extent provided in regulations, such term includes any corporation with a net unrealized built-in loss.”

The IRC §382(g) defines “ownership change” as a two-step process. First, there must be an “owner shift”, which means with respect to a 5% shareholder, that there is a change in the respective ownership of stock of a corporation, and such change “affects the percentage of stock of such corporation owned by any person who is a 5-percent shareholder before or after such change.” Second, the ownership change occurs if, immediately after any owner shift, “the percentage of the stock of the loss corporation owned by 1 or more 5-percent shareholders has increased by more than 50 percentage points” over “the lowest percentage of stock of the loss corporation (or any predecessor corporation) owned by such shareholders at any time during the testing period.” Id. The testing period is three years. §382(i).

Now that we know what a loss corporation is, we can analyze its interaction with the §318 employee trust attribution rules. Generally, under §318(a)(2)(B)(i), the participants in a qualified plan under which a tax-exempt employee trust is established are not treated as owners of any shares of a “loss corporation” owned by the trust.

This general rule, however, contains an important exception where the IRS will treat beneficiaries of the tax-exempt employee trust as owners of the loss corporation for certain §382 purposes. See 114 Reg. §1.382-10, T.D. 9269, 71 Fed. Reg. 36,676 (June 28, 2006), applicable to all distributions after June 23, 2006 (for distributions on or before June 23, 2006, see former Reg. §1.382-10T).

Why do we have this exception? The problem is that, by blocking the operation of general §318 trust attribution rules, a distribution of stocks in a loss corporation by the tax-exempt employee trust to the plan beneficiaries may cause an “ownership change” since the beneficiaries are not treated as owners of any interest in a loss corporation. Once the ownership change occurs, §382 may limit the amount of taxable income that can be offset by certain loss carryovers and recognized built-in losses of the loss corporation. Hence, the IRS enacted this exception to §318(a)(2)(B)(i) for certain §382 purposes. This is one of many examples of “an exception to an exception” that saturate the Internal Revenue Code.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With US International Tax Law

US tax law is incredibly complex (as the discussion of the loss corporation and its interaction with §318 employee trust attribution rules demonstrates); the complexity increases even more at the international level. US taxpayers who deal with US international tax law without the assistance of an experienced international tax lawyer run an enormous risk of violating US tax laws and incurring high IRS penalties.

Sherayzen Law Office is a highly experienced international tax law firm which specializes in US international tax compliance and offshore voluntary disclosures. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to successfully resolve their US international tax compliance issues, and We Can Help You!

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§318 Upstream Trust Attribution | US Foreign Trust Tax Lawyer & Attorney

In a previous article, I discussed the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §318 downstream trust attribution rules. Today, I would like to focus on the §318 upstream trust attribution rules.

§318 Upstream Trust Attribution: Downstream vs. Upstream

There are two types of §318 trust attribution: downstream and upstream. In a previous article, I already covered the downstream attribution rules which 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. This article focuses just on the upstream attribution.

§318 Upstream Trust Attribution: Main Rule

Under §318(a)(3)(B)(i), all corporate shares owned directly or indirectly by a beneficiary of a trust are considered owned by the trust, unless the beneficiary’s interest is a remote contingent interest. Notice that the proportionality rule does not apply to upstream trust attribution under §318.

For example: if trust T owns 25 shares of X, a C-corporation, and A owns another 25 shares of X, as long as A has a beneficiary interest in T which is not a remote contingent interest, then T will constructively own all of A’s shares of X – i.e. T will own 50 shares of X.

§318 Upstream Trust Attribution: Contingent Interest

If a beneficiary’s interest in a trust is both, remote and contingent, then there is no attribution of stock ownership from the beneficiary to the trust. Hence, the key issue with respect to upstream trust attribution is classification of a beneficiary’s interest in the trust – is it a remote contingent interest or not? Let’s first define what a contingent interest is and then discuss when such an interest is considered remote.

A contingent interest is defined as interest that is not vested. This means that the beneficiary has no present right to trust property and has no present interest in a property with respect to future enjoyment of the trust property. In other words, this interest can only be activated by an occurrence of an intervening event.

§318 Upstream Trust Attribution: Remote Contingent Interest

A contingent interest is remote if “under the maximum exercise of discretion by the trustee in favor of such beneficiary, the value of such interest, computed actuarially, is 5 percent or less of the value of the trust property.” §318(a)(3)(B)(i).

Let’s use an example to demonstrate how this rule works. The fact scenario is as follows: trust T owns 40 shares in X, a C-corporation; A, an individual beneficiary, has a contingent (not vested) remainder in the trust which has a value computed actuarially equal to 3% of the value of the trust property; A also owns the remaining 60 shares of X (X issued a total of 100 shares).

In this situation, A’s beneficiary’s interest is contingent because it is not vested and it is remote because its value is less than 5% of the value of the trust property. Hence, no shares of X are attributed from A to T, because A has a remote contingent interest.

It should be noted that T’s shares in X are still attributed to A under the §318 downstream attribution rules; hence, A would constructively own 1.2 shares of X.

§318 Upstream Trust Attribution: Special Situations

I wish to conclude this article with a discussion of two special situations.

First, if beneficiaries are entitled to trust corpus, this is a vested interest. This is case even if the life tenant in the trust’s property has the right to exercise power of appointment in favor of others. Of course, if such right is actually exercised in favor of others, then the beneficiary will lose its vested interest in the trust.

Second, if a beneficiary interest is conditioned upon surviving a life interest, it is considered a contingent beneficiary interest. For example, in Rev. Rul. 76-213, the IRS stated that a beneficiary had a contingent interest, because his remainder interest in the trust would terminate if the beneficiary predeceased the life tenant.

§318 Upstream 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 future articles.

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The complexity and importance of US international tax law (in which §318 constructive ownership rules play an important role) makes it extremely risky for US taxpayers to operate without assistance from an experienced international tax lawyer.

Sherayzen Law Office is a highly experienced international tax law firm which specializes in US international tax compliance and offshore voluntary disclosures. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to successfully resolve their US international tax compliance issues, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Foreign Trust Tax Treatment in the United States: Historical Overview

Over the years, the US tax treatment of foreign trusts has undergone dramatic changes. It is important to study and understand this history in order to properly understand and interpret current US tax laws concerning foreign trust. In this essay, I will provide a broad overview of the history of foreign trust tax treatment in the United States since before 1962 until the present time.

Foreign Trust Tax Treatment Prior to 1962

Before 1962, the US tax laws treated in the same manner all foreign trusts, whether they had a US beneficiary or foreign one. A complex foreign trust established by a US grantor for the benefit of a US beneficiary was taxed similarly to the one established by a foreign granter for a US beneficiary. Moreover, since foreign-source income of a foreign trust was not included in the trust’s gross income for US income tax purposes, this trust would not have any DNI (distributable net income)!

Such treatment of foreign trusts led to a lot of abuse whereby large portions of income were never taxed in the United States. For example, prior to 1962, a foreign trust’s income would not be subject to US taxes in a situation where the trust was located in a country with low or no income taxes and the corpus consisted solely of foreign assets.

While in some situations US beneficiaries might have been taxed when the trust income was actually distributed (under the regular five-year throwback rule), careful tax planning could have prevented even such taxation of the beneficiaries in light of the fact that foreign-source income was excluded from DNI. Moreover, distributions of accumulated foreign trust income contained no undistributed net income (UNI) and were not subject to taxation under even the limited five-year throwback rule.

The Watershed Legislation in Foreign Trust Tax Treatment: the Revenue Act of 1962

The foreign trust tax treatment changed dramatically with the Revenue Act of 1962. The new legislation introduced two major changes to foreign trust tax treatment in the United States. First, it changed the calculation of DNI by requiring foreign trusts to add foreign-source income to it (unless such treatment was exempt by a treaty). Moreover, foreign trusts with US grantors now had to include capital gains in DNI.

Second, the Revenue Act of 1962 created the throwback rule on accumulation distributions from a foreign trust if the trust was created by a US person. Furthermore, important exceptions to throwback rule, such as exclusions for emergency distributions of accumulated income, were made unavailable to foreign trusts by the Act. Finally, the throwback rule became unlimited for foreign trusts while there was a five-year limitation on its application to domestic trusts.

Despite these profound changes in the foreign trust tax treatment, the Revenue Act of 1962 still failed to eliminate some important advantages of using foreign trusts to lower US tax liability. For example, the unlimited throwback rule did not seriously impact the foreign trust advantages in its ability for potentially unlimited tax deferral and tax-free income accumulation. Of course, this meant that the possibility of the rate of earnings of a foreign trust was likely to be much greater than that of US domestic trusts.

Furthermore, nothing was done to limit the ability of the US grantor and beneficiaries (and their families) to access undistributed funds of a foreign trust. For example, they could still receive these funds through loans, private annuities, like-kind exchanges and other similar “indirect” methods.

Finally, with respect to foreign trusts with US grantors, the foreign trusts were required to allocate capital gains to DNI. This meant that every distribution by a foreign trust contained a mixture of ordinary income and capital gains. US domestic trusts could not do that, because capital gains of a domestic trust could not be distributed until current and accumulated ordinary income was distributed.

Thus, perversely, the new foreign trust tax treatment afforded foreign trusts an important advantage in the form of its ability to distribute part of its capital gains to the beneficiaries more quickly than a domestic trust. This advantage became especially evident once the unlimited throwback rule was extended to domestic trusts in 1969.

Tightening of Screws in the Foreign Trust Tax Treatment: the Tax Reform Act of 1976

By 1976, these obvious advantages in the foreign trust tax treatment became unacceptable for the US Congress. Therefore, it acted in a major piece of US tax legislation known as the Tax Reform Act of 1976. While the Act was very broad, there were five key changes to the foreign trust tax treatment in the United States.

First, the new legislation re-classified foreign trusts that were created by US persons and had or could potentially have at least one US beneficiary as a grantor trust under IRC Section 679.

Second, the Act of 1976 required an automatic inclusion of capital gains of a foreign trust in the foreign trust’s DNI.

Third, it eliminated the loophole with respect to foreign trust distributions of income that accumulated prior to a beneficiary’s twenty-first birthday. Now, such distributions were taxed.

Fourth, with the obvious desire to attack the tax advantage in foreign trust tax treatment with respect to accumulated income, the Congress imposed a 6% simple interest charge on the tax imposed on a beneficiary of a foreign trust with respect to accumulations after December 31, 1976.

Finally, the last major change attacked the ability of US grantors to avoid US capital gain taxes by transferring appreciated assets into foreign trusts. The Act of 1976 imposed a 35% excise tax on the transfer of all appreciated assets to a foreign trust by a US grantor, unless the grantor elected to recognize the gain at the time of the transfer.

Changing the Foreign Trust Tax Treatment under IRC Section 672(f)

Another change in the foreign trust tax treatment came under the Revenue Reconciliation Act of 1990 with respect foreign grantor trusts that had a foreign grantor and a US beneficiary who had made gifts to the foreign grantor. This new law was summarized in IRC Section 672(f). Section 672(f) states that, in a situation where a foreign trust has a US beneficiary and should have been a grantor trust under the ordinary grantor trust rules found in IRC Sections 671 through 678 but for the fact that the grantor was a foreign person, this trust should be treated as owned by the trust’s US beneficiary to the extent that this beneficiary has made prior gifts to the foreign grantor.

There is still a small exception that a “gift shall not be taken into account to the extent such gift would be excluded from taxable gifts under section 2503(b).” 26 U.S.C. Section 672(f)(5)

1996 and 1997 Changes in the Foreign Trust Tax Treatment

The last major change in foreign trust tax treatment that I wish to mention here was introduced in the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 (as slightly modified by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997). The Act of 1996 introduced major revisions in the rules of foreign trust tax treatment, arguably on the scale of the Tax Reform Act of 1976.

Five major areas of foreign trust tax treatment were in focus. First, the definition of a foreign trust was clarified with a strong bias toward treating a trust as a foreign trust. Two new tests, the court test and the control test, were introduced (and clarified further in the Treasury regulations). These changes were codified in IRC Section 7701.

Second, the reporting requirements for foreign trusts (Forms 3520 and 3520-A) were introduced. This was a major change in the reporting burden for US taxpayers and foreign trusts with US beneficiaries.

Third, the penalties for failure to report transfers to a foreign trust were introduced.

Fourth, new rules were put in place to reduce the utility of foreign trusts by individuals who were planning to become US residents.

Finally, new restrictions were placed to reduce the utility of using foreign trusts by individuals who were planning to surrender their US residency or citizenship.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Tax Help With Foreign Trusts

Over the years, one can see profound changes in the foreign trust tax treatment; in this brief article, I only focused on some of the major changes in the foreign trust tax treatment, but there were other developments that took place (for example, FATCA compliance for foreign trusts).

These changes in foreign trust tax treatment generally indicate the trend toward stricter regulation of foreign trusts, increasing reporting burden on US taxpayers and foreign trusts, and the reduction in any type of an income tax advantage of foreign trusts. In fact, the foreign trust law has become so complex that one should not try to resolve these matters without the help of an experienced tax professional.

Despite these burdens, there is still a large number of foreign trusts with US grantors and US beneficiaries. The latter situation (i.e. US beneficiaries) often occurs when a foreign beneficiary becomes a US beneficiary through immigration. Oftentimes, these new US beneficiaries are not even aware of the existence of foreign trusts until significant US tax non-compliance occurs.

This is why it is so important to contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with respect to your foreign trusts as soon as possible. We have helped US beneficiaries, US grantors and foreign trusts around the world to do proper tax planning and comply with US reporting requirements (including Forms 3520, 3520-A and the voluntary disclosures associated with these forms). We can help You!

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