Taxation of Liquidating Trusts

Liquidating trusts are common in today’s business environment and it is highly important to understand how they are taxed in the United States. This article is a continuation of a series of articles on the general overview of U.S. taxation of different types of foreign and domestic trusts with the focus on liquidating trusts.

Liquidating Trusts: Definition

Regs. §301.7701-4(d) states that a trust will be considered a liquidating trust “if it is organized for the primary purpose of liquidating and distributing the assets transferred to it, and if its activities are all reasonably necessary to, and consistent with, the accomplishment of that purpose”.

Liquidating Trusts: Tax Treatment

Generally, liquidating trusts are treated as trusts for U.S. tax purposes, but only as long as the trust’s business activities do not become so big as to obscure the trust’s liquidating function. Id. If the latter becomes the case (i.e. the trust’s business activities will obscure its liquidating purpose), then the trust will be treated as a partnership or an association taxable as a corporation.

As Regs. §301.7701-4(d) states, “if the liquidation is unreasonably prolonged or if the liquidation purpose becomes so obscured by business activities that the declared purpose of liquidation can be said to be lost or abandoned, the status of the organization will no longer be that of a liquidating trust.”

Presumptively, Regs. §301.7701-4(d) will treat the following entities as liquidating trusts: bondholders’ protective committees, voting trusts, and other agencies formed to protect the interests of security holders during insolvency, bankruptcy, or corporate reorganization proceedings are analogous to liquidating trusts. However, if they are “subsequently utilized to further the control or profitable operation of a going business on a permanent continuing basis, they will lose their classification as trusts for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code”. Id.

It should be mentioned that, in Rev. Proc. 94-45, the IRS stated that it will treat organizations created under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code as liquidating trusts as long as all of the IRS extensive requirements are satisfied. Rev. Proc. 94-45 described in detail eleven IRS requirements.

Liquidating Trusts: IRS Review

In general, during the examination of a taxpayer’s classification of the entity as a liquidating trust, the IRS will engage in a two-step analysis. First, it will focus on the trust’s documents, its stated purpose and the powers of the trustees. Second, the IRS will analyze the actual operations of the trust.

The powers of trustees deserve special attention in liquidating trusts. Generally, granting to a trustee incidental business powers to prevent the loss of the value of distributed assets will not turn a liquidating trust into a corporation. However, where trustees are granted extensive powers to conduct business for a relatively large period of time, there is a significant risk that the IRS will re-classify a liquidating trust as a corporation or a partnership.

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