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Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate | IRS Audit Tax Lawyer & Attorney

One of the most challenging issues during an IRS audit is establishing cost-basis in foreign real estate.  This issue most frequently comes up in the context of real estate that was obtained through inheritance or gift many years ago.  In this article, based on my IRS audit experiences, I would like to discuss the main challenges and case strategies associated with establishing the cost-basis in foreign real estate in a manner that would satisfy the IRS during an audit.

An important note: I will not be discussing this issue in the context of an IRS audit of an offshore voluntary disclosure and how it would affect the calculation of an Offshore Penalty.  This essay is strictly limited to an IRS audit that involves US international tax issues without the taxpayer ever going through a voluntary disclosure.

Another important note: this article is written more for the benefit of other international tax lawyers, not the general public.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Importance

Before we discuss the problems associated with establishing the cost-basis in foreign real estate, we need to first understand why this issue is so important.  There are three main consequences to establishing cost-basis in the context of an IRS audit. 

First, the income tax impact of failure to establish cost-basis in a foreign property on the audited taxpayer may be truly disastrous.  Obviously, if you cannot prove any cost-basis in a property (or you can only convince the IRS that there was minimal cost-basis), you will have to recognize all proceeds from the sale of this property as capital gains (or potentially subpart F income if you owned a property though a foreign corporation).

Second, there is a very important psychological impact on the entire audit if you have a large unreported gain from sale of foreign real estate.  The IRS agent in charge of an audit is likely to take a more aggressive position not only on this issue, but also on other issues irrespective of whether they are directly related to unreported gain.   The most frequent victims of this hardened attitude of an IRS agent are the legal arguments in support of a reasonable cause.

Finally, a large gain from a sale of foreign real estate is likely to encourage the IRS to dig deeper and even expand the audit to more years.  In one of my audit cases, an IRS agent initially believed that there was a large capital gain and expanded the audit to five prior years; however, he reversed this decision once I was able to show that the sold real property had a much higher cost-basis due to numerous improvements that were made by my client over a number of years.

In other words, establishing cost-basis in a sold real estate property may be one of the most crucial issues in an IRS audit.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Top 3 Challenges

The challenges to establishing cost-basis in foreign real estate are highly dependent on the facts of the case.  However, there are three main themes that usually appear in one form or another in every IRS audit case.

The first challenge is absence of documentation.  This is by far the most common and most important battleground between the IRS and the taxpayer during the vast majority of IRS audits in this area, especially if the direct documentation is absent due to passage of time.

The second challenge is the potential opposition from the IRS to proving cost-basis indirectly through usage of circumstantial evidence and third-parties.

The third challenge is establishing the credibility of evidence. For example, in one of my cases, the IRS initially refused to accept a valuation report prepared by a local professional valuation expert because the report lacked a proper explanation of how he arrived at the proposed values.

Establishing Cost-Basis in Foreign Real Estate: Top 4 Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

There are numerous strategies to deal with the cost-basis establishment challenges. Your choice among them should depend on the facts and circumstances of your case.  Sometimes, you will even come up with a brand-new strategy tailored specifically to the unique challenges of your case.

Nevertheless, there are four common themes to the strategies used in overcoming the aforementioned challenges.  First, you need to recreate the logical history of the property and capital improvements to the property in order to convince the IRS that the valuation your client supplied is logical and reasonable.

Second, demonstrate to the IRS agent in charge of your client’s audit that you are a reliable source of information.  The more objective you appear (and you actually are), the more the IRS sees that you will not allow false facts or statements to enter the record, the more the IRS sees that your client shares both of these traits, the more likely the IRS agent will accept your position or be willing to achieve a compromise with you (see below).

Third, utilize indirect and circumstantial evidence as well as third-party affidavits/testimony to support the valuation of the property.  In other words, if you have no ability to directly establish the cost-basis of a property, then you need to find creative ways to build the necessary records and establish their credibility through usage of supporting documents and/or testimony. 

For example, in one of my previous audits, the client had no documentation whatsoever except one isolated receipt to prove the substantial improvements made to her foreign real estate over the past almost forty (!) years.  My solution to this problem was to first get an affidavit from my client fully stating all improvements made with approximate cost based purely on her memory.  Then, I obtained additional signed statements from neighbors largely supporting the estimates as well as the fact that these improvements were indeed made. Finally, I obtained a statement from a local construction company owner who stated that he recalled these improvements and confirmed the estimated amounts.  Additionally, all of the improvements were properly explained by the history of how the property was obtained, for what purpose and why so many improvements were needed.  All of these facts and circumstances were explained in a letter to the IRS agent together with the legal basis (i.e., case law) showing how courts have accepted similar evidence in the past. Under the weight of this substantial record (and some other circumstances of this case), the IRS finally agreed to accept all improvements as part of an overall compromise.

Finally, use creative legal strategies to convince the IRS to accept a different cost-basis in a property through operation of tax rules.  This is a very complex strategy, but it is more commonly employed than one may believe.  For example, in one of my prior audit cases, the IRS agreed to disregard the foreign corporation that owned the foreign property allowing the stepped-up basis for this inherited property.

Contact Sherayzen Law office for Professional Help with IRS Audits Involving Foreign Real Estate

If you have foreign assets and you are audited by the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.  We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs in full compliance with US tax laws, including during IRS audits.  We can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule a Confidential Consultation!

Post-OVDP Audits | Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer & Attorney

A significant number of US taxpayers who went through the OVDP mistakenly believed that they were immune from the IRS post-OVDP audits concerning their post-voluntary disclosure compliance. Sherayzen Law Office has repeatedly warned in the past that these taxpayers were mistaken with respect to their exposure to potential post-OVDP audits. The recent announcement of a new IRS compliance campaign concerning post-OVDP tax compliance confirmed the correctness of Sherayzen Law Office’s analysis.

Post-OVDP Audits: OVDP Background Information

The IRS created the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) as an incentive for US taxpayers to come forward and disclose their prior willful and non-willful noncompliance with US tax reporting requirements concerning foreign assets and foreign income. In exchange for the voluntary disclosure, the taxpayers paid a significantly lower penalty than what they otherwise could have had to pay outside of the OVDP. Moreover, taxpayers also received protection from IRS criminal prosecution of their prior tax noncompliance.

OVDP is not just one program, but a series of programs. The initial one was created in the early 2000s, but it was a relatively small and unknown program. The first program that became influential was the 2009 OVDP. The 2009 OVDP was created on the heels of the IRS victory in the UBS case and it closed on October 15, 2009.

Then, after the passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) in 2010, the IRS created the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (“2011 OVDI”). The 2011 OVDI was a hugely popular program. Its success led to the creation of 2012 OVDP and, finally, 2014 OVDP.

The implementation of FATCA had materially altered the IRS interest in the OVDP while the number of the OVDP participants precipitously dropped due to the success of the Streamlined Compliance Initiatives (i.e. Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures). The 2014 OVDP program was closed on September 28, 2018.

Post-OVDP Audits: False Sense of Security After OVDP

Some of the OVDP participants have mistakenly treated their OVDP disclosure as a remedy capable of curing not only their past tax noncompliance, but also future compliance issues. In other words, after going through the OVDP, these taxpayers relaxed their commitment to their ongoing annual compliance. Some of them started filing their FBARs irregularly or stopped filing them altogether while others under-reported their foreign income. Still others engaged in a different conduct overseas without realizing that their new way of doing business gave rise to a different set of US reporting requirements.

Many of these taxpayers also erroneously believed that, by going through the OVDP, they were taken off the “IRS radar”. This means that they felt that the IRS was highly unlikely to audit them after their voluntary disclosure.

Post-OVDP Audits: IRS Noticed Noncompliance Among OVDP Participants

In reality, as Sherayzen Law Office had suspected, the IRS engaged in extensive analysis of the OVDP participants’ behavior after their voluntary disclosure. Of course, it was not difficult for the IRS to monitor them, because the IRS already had a full list of the OVDP participants at its disposal. Some of the data came from field audits while other information was derived from FATCA and data analysis.

As a result of its analysis, the IRS discovered the aforementioned disturbing noncompliance trends among former OVDP participants.

Post-OVDP Audits: July of 2019 IRS Compliance Campaign

After it uncovered these noncompliance trends among the former OVDP participants, the IRS announced in July of 2019 a campaign to specifically target taxpayers who went through the OVDP. As part of this campaign, the IRS will send out soft letters and conduct post-OVDP audits.

Post-OVDP Audits: Potentially Disastrous Consequences for Noncompliant Taxpayers

The targets of this IRS compliance campaign will be in a particularly difficult legal situation for two main reasons. First, during a post-OVDP audit, the taxpayers are unlikely to be able to claim non-willfulness with respect to their post-OVDP tax noncompliance because of the knowledge of US tax requirements that they acquired during their voluntary disclosures. In fact, it is difficult to see how non-willfulness can be established in any way other than claims based on new and/or extraordinary circumstances.

Second, since it is not likely that they will be able to establish non-willfulness, taxpayers will most likely face willful penalties during an IRS audit, perhaps even civil and criminal fraud penalties. The IRS is unlikely to be lenient with taxpayers who already benefitted from a voluntary disclosure and persisted in their noncompliance afterwards. In other words, a post-OVDP audit may result in disastrous consequences for noncompliant taxpayers.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Post-OVDP Audits

Given the particularly dangerous nature of a post-OVDP audit, a taxpayer subject to this type of an IRS audit must retain an experienced international tax attorney as soon as he is notified about the commencement of the audit. Failure to do so may severely damage the taxpayer’s ability to defend against subsequent IRS penalties.

This is why you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. We are a highly-experienced international tax law firm that has helped hundreds of US taxpayers to resolve their past noncompliance with US tax laws, including in the context of an IRS audit. We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Face Potential IRS Audit | FBAR News

On May 15, 2019, a Texas federal court ruled that the IRS can enforce a John Doe Summons for client information from Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm because the firm failed to demonstrate that the attorney-client privilege protected this information. This is bad news for Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm clients who now may have to face a potential IRS audit.

How and Why Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Face IRS Pressure

This entire affair arose as a result of an IRS audit of an unnamed client of Taylor Lohmeyer law firm. During the audit, the IRS determined that this client owed more than $2 million in taxes with respect to about $5 million of undisclosed foreign income.

Moreover, the IRS agent who conducted the audit discovered that the taxpayer received an advice from Taylor Lohmeyer law firm with respect to evasion of US taxes on his foreign income. It appears that the IRS agent also received additional information confirming the involvement of the firm in illegal tax-avoidance schemes from a former partner of the firm.

As a result, the IRS agent was able to build the case that Taylor Lohmeyer law firm helped its clients build offshore trust structures and beneficial ownership schemes for the purpose of evading US taxes. The IRS then made the logical conclusion that other Taylor Lohmeyer law firm clients may have used the firm to hide their taxable income in foreign jurisdictions through foreign bank accounts and foreign entities.

Why the Court Approved the John Doe Summons for the Identities of Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients

Based on this information, the court ruled that the government had sufficient evidence to establish that the summons was made with the legitimate purpose of combating tax evasion. The court also said that the burden to show the government made a wrongful summons was on the Taylor Lohmeyer law firm, and the firm failed to satisfy its burden of proof.

It was not just the IRS work that convinced the court to approve the IRS summons for the names of the Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm clients. Rather, it appears that the firm was overly confident and did not properly assert the attorney-client privilege to protect its clients. The court specifically objected to what it believed to be a “blanket assertions of privilege” for the firm’s clients. It wanted the firm to establish that the attorney-client privilege applied to each specific client and each specific document.

Will There Be an Appeal?

It is not clear if the firm will appeal the court’s decision, but it appears that such an appeal would be the least that the firm can do to protect its clients. From a broader perspective, it would be too dangerous to let the IRS further chip away at the attorney-client privilege.

What Should Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Do?

The clients of the firm should not simply wait for what happens next in this case, whether the firm will appeal the decision or simply disclose their names. They are right now in a very dangerous situation and should immediately explore their voluntary disclosure options to limit their exposure to IRS criminal penalties, including FBAR criminal penalties. Moreover, a voluntary disclosure may allow them to reduce their exposure to civil penalties.

They must also prepare for the possibility that they may not be able to do a classic voluntary disclosure and prepare for an IRS audit. Even in a willful situation, it may be possible to significantly reduce the exposure to FBAR and other IRS penalties if the case is handled correctly.

In other words, whether their earlier noncompliance was willful or non-willful, the clients of this law firm should immediately contact an international tax attorney who specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures and IRS audits.

Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm Clients Should Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Their Offshore Voluntary Disclosures and IRS Audits

If you are a client of Taylor Lohmeyer law firm, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional advice with respect to your offshore voluntary disclosure options and IRS audit preparation. Sherayzen Law Office is a highly-experienced international tax law firm with respect to both of these subjects.

Our founder is an international tax attorney who possesses deep knowledge and understanding of US international tax law and its application in the context of an IRS audit and offshore voluntary disclosures. In fact, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws through an offshore voluntary disclosure. Moreover, he has handled a great variety of IRS audits, including audits of undisclosed offshore assets.

Contact Mr. Sherayzen Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

IRS Large Corporate Compliance Program | IRS Lawyer & Attorney

On May 16, 2019, the IRS Large Business and International Division (“LB&I”) announced the creation of a new compliance program for the large corporations – Large Corporate Compliance program.

The Large Corporate Compliance program will cover the oversight of the LB&I’s largest corporate taxpayers. It replaces the existing Coordinated Industry Case program.

The replacement of the Coordinated Industry Case program is not unexpected. Ever since the IRS announced that it would switch to compliance campaigns for case selection purposes, the future of the old program was in doubt. Moreover, the Coordinated Industry Case program used criteria that did not incorporate many of the advancements made by the IRS in the area of data analysis. Hence, it is not surprising that the May 16 announcement came right after the LB&I began on May 15, 2019 a new application of data analytics for determining the population of its largest and most complex corporate taxpayers.

The IRS stated that the Large Corporate Compliance program will determine on a different, automatic basis who should be covered by the program. In fact, the program employs automatic application of the large case pointing criteria to determine the LCC population. For example, pointing criteria include such items as gross assets and gross receipts. In the past, this was done on a manual, localized basis. Automated pointing allows a more objective determination of the taxpayers that should be part of the population.

After the population is determined, data analytics is used to identify the returns that pose the highest compliance risk. The Large Corporate Compliance program further improves LB&I’s ability to efficiently focus its resources on noncompliance.

The Large Corporate Compliance program will coordinate its work with the LB&I agents and examiners who apply their experience and expertise in undertaking compliance actions and determining compliance treatment streams of the biggest and most-complex corporate taxpayers. The IRS happily stated that each enhances the other.

The IRS further shared that the program includes continuous improvement using an agile model principle to continually monitor and improve based on feedback from stakeholders including field teams, practice networks, and data scientists.

Sherayzen Law Office carefully watches the new IRS moves with respect to its compliance programs to determine their impact on the firm’s clients.

OVDP Closure Sets the Stage for a Dramatic Increase in IRS FBAR Audits

There has been virtually no discussion of the impact of the OVDP closure beyond how it affects the ability of willful taxpayers to settle their past noncompliance. This is very unfortunate, because there is a direct correlation between OVDP and IRS tax enforcement activities. In this article, I will discuss how the OVPD closure sets the stage for a dramatic increase in the IRS FBAR Audits as well as IRS audits of other US taxpayers with international tax exposure.

The Utility of the OVDP Program Prior to the OVDP Closure

The IRS flagship 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program served various purposes prior to its closure on September 28, 2018. Let’s concentrate on its two most important roles.

First and foremost, it was an important information-gathering tool for the IRS. The taxpayers who participated in the OVDP disclosed not only their noncompliance with US tax laws, but also the identity of the persons and institutions who facilitated this noncompliance. In other words, the OVDP supplied to the IRS valuable, up-to-date information about foreign financial institutions and foreign financial advisors who participated and even set-up the various tax evasion schemes. This ever-growing mountain of evidence was later used by the IRS to target these schemes effectively and efficiently.

Second, the OVDP greatly enhanced the IRS tax enforcement activities in two different ways. On the one hand, the OVDP promoted the general awareness of FBAR requirements as well as voluntary disclosures of FBAR noncompliance by US taxpayers, thereby saving the IRS the time and resources that otherwise would have been unnecessarily spent on finding and auditing these taxpayers. On the other hand, by “weeding-out” these repentant taxpayers, the OVDP allowed the IRS to concentrate its enforcement efforts on the taxpayers who the IRS believed to be true and inveterate tax evaders.

Diminished Utility of the OVDP and the OVDP Closure in 2018

Over time, however, the IRS came to conclusion that, in precisely these two most important aspects, the OVDP had lost a substantial part of its prior utility. The full implementation of FATCA and the ever-spreading web of bilateral and multilateral information exchange treaties made the OVDP a relatively unimportant information collection tool by the end of 2017.

At the same time, due to the introduction of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and the fact that most willful taxpayers who wanted to take advantage of the OVDP had already done so, fewer and fewer taxpayers were entering the OVDP. In other words, by early 2018, the IRS was in the position to make the decision that the “weeding-out” process was substantially complete.

For these two reasons as well a number of other smaller reasons, the IRS decided to finally close the 2014 OVDP (which itself was a modification of the 2012 OVDP) on September 28, 2018. The OVDP closure did not happen suddenly; rather, the IRS gave a more than nine-month notice to the public that the OVDP was going to be closed. This was done very much according to the “weeding-out” concept – the IRS gave one last opportunity to certain groups of taxpayers to settle their prior US international tax noncompliance under the established terms of the OVDP program.

The Link Between the OVDP Closure and IRS FBAR Audits

At this point, after giving noncompliant US taxpayers their last chance to “peacefully” resolve their FBAR and other US tax problems, the IRS believes that it has completed its weeding-out process. The time has come for harsh IRS tax enforcement.

Based on my conversations with various IRS agents, I have identified the trend where the IRS currently encourages IRS agents to quickly close their voluntary disclosure cases and shift to doing field audits involving international tax compliance, including FBAR audits.

In other words, the OVDP closure frees up the critical resources that the IRS needs to conduct audits based on the mountains of information it has accumulated over the past decade. Some of this information came from the OVDP, the Swiss Bank Program, from FATCA and other  information exchange mechanisms.

What is worse (from the perspective of noncompliant taxpayers) is that the IRS now can justify the imposition of higher FBAR penalties since it can claim that the taxpayers had prior chances to resolve their prior FBAR noncompliance and intentionally failed to do so.

Sherayzen Law Office Predicted the Shift Toward Tax Enforcement a Long Time Ago

All of these developments – the OVDP closure and the shift toward stricter tax enforcement – were predicted years by Sherayzen Law Office ago. As early as 2013, Mr. Sherayzen made a prediction that the Swiss Bank Program and FATCA were likely to lead to higher levels of FBAR audits and FBAR litigation as well as the general shift of the IRS policy from voluntary disclosures to tax enforcement.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With FBAR Audits and Other International Tax Audits

If you are being audited by the IRS and your tax return involves any international tax issues (including FBARs), contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our experienced international tax law firm has successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers to settle their US tax affairs.

We possess profound knowledge and understanding of US international tax law as well as the IRS procedures. We have experience in every stage of IRS enforcement: from offshore voluntary disclosures and IRS administrative appeals to IRS audits (including FBAR audits and audits of Streamlined disclosures) and federal court litigation.

We are a leader in US international tax compliance and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!