§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.

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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.

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Determining the Residency of a Trust in Cross-Border Situations

One of the most important tax aspects involving trusts in cross-border tax situations is the determination of the residency of a trust- i.e. whether it is a domestic or foreign trust for US tax purposes. This determination of the residency of a trust will have important tax consequences for US taxpayers.

In this article we will do a general exploration of how the residency of a trust in cross-border situations is determined; this article is not intended to convey tax or legal advice. Please contact Eugene Sherayzen an experienced tax attorney at Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. if you have questions concerning trust planning or compliance.

General Criteria for Determining the Residency of a Trust

The general determination of the residency of a trust is described in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7701 and Regulation Section 301.7701-7. Under these tax provisions, a trust will be deemed to be a U.S. person if: “(i) A court within the United States is able to exercise primary supervision over the administration of the trust (court test); and (ii) One or more United States persons have the authority to control all substantial decisions of the trust (control test).” (See explanations of the court test and the control test in the paragraphs below). Under the regulation, a trust will be a U.S. person for the purposes of the IRC on any day that the trust meets both of these tests. If a trust does not satisfy both of these tests, it will be considered to be a foreign trust for U.S. reporting purposes.

Determining the Residency of a Trust: The Court Test

In determining the residency of a trust under the Court Test, we need to consult the Treasury Regulations. Regulation Section 301.7701-7(c)(1) provides a safe harbor in which a trust will satisfy this (i.e. US residency) test if: “(i) The trust instrument does not direct that the trust be administered outside of the United States; (ii) The trust in fact is administered exclusively in the United States; and (iii) The trust is not subject to an automatic migration provision…”. For the purposes of the regulation, the term “court” is defined in the regulation to mean any federal, state, or local court, and the United States is used a geographical manner (thus including only the States and the District of Columbia, and not a court within a territory or possession of the United States or within a foreign country).

The term primary supervision means that a court has or would have the authority to determine substantially all issues regarding the administration of the entire trust.” The term “administration” is defined in the regulation to mean, “the carrying out of the duties imposed by the terms of the trust instrument and applicable law, including maintaining the books and records of the trust, filing tax returns, managing and investing the assets of the trust, defending the trust from suits by creditors, and determining the amount and timing of distributions.” The regulations further provide examples of situations that will cause a trust to fail or satisfy the court test.

Determining the Residency of a Trust: The Control test

The Control Test is often the key area of dispute in determining the residency of a trust. “Control” in the control test is explained in the regulation to mean, “having the power, by vote or otherwise, to make all of the substantial decisions of the trust, with no other person having the power to veto any of the substantial decisions.” Critically important – it is required under the regulation to consider all individuals who may have authority to make “substantial decisions”, and not simply the trust fiduciaries.

Under the regulation, the term “substantial decisions” (see usage in first paragraph) is defined to mean, “those decisions that persons are authorized or required to make under the terms of the trust instrument and applicable law and that are not ministerial.” (Some examples of “ministerial” decisions are provided in the regulation, including, bookkeeping, the collection of rents, and the execution of investment decisions).

The regulation further provides numerous examples of substantial decisions: “(A) Whether and when to distribute income or corpus; (B) The amount of any distributions; (C) The selection of a beneficiary; (D) Whether a receipt is allocable to income or principal; (E) Whether to terminate the trust; (F) Whether to compromise, arbitrate, or abandon claims of the trust; (G) Whether to sue on behalf of the trust or to defend suits against the trust; (H) Whether to remove, add, or replace a trustee; (I) Whether to appoint a successor trustee to succeed a trustee who has died, resigned, or otherwise ceased to act as a trustee…; and (J) Investment decisions; however, if a United States person under section 7701(a)(30) hires an investment advisor for the trust, the investment decisions made by the investment advisor will be considered substantial decisions controlled by the United States person if the United States person can terminate the investment advisor’s power to make investment decisions at will.”

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Tax and Legal Help With Issues Involving Foreign Trusts

Determination of the residency of a trust is just one of a myriad of highly complex issues than an international tax attorney can help you resolve with respect to U.S. tax compliance, tax planning and estate planning. If you are an owner or a beneficiary of a foreign trust, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal and tax help.

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