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Kevin Spencer focuses his practice on tax controversy issues. Kevin represents clients in complicated tax disputes in court and before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the IRS Appeals and Examination divisions. In addition to his tax controversy practice, Kevin has broad experience advising clients on various tax issues, including tax accounting, employment and reasonable compensation, civil and criminal tax penalties, IRS procedures, reportable transactions and tax shelters, renewable energy, state and local tax, and private client matters. After earning his Master of Tax degree, Kevin had the privilege to clerk for the Honorable Robert P. Ruwe on the US Tax Court. Read Kevin Spencer's full bio.

On February 7, 2018, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) released its second quarter update to the 2017-2018 Priority Guidance Plan to identify tax issues it believes should be addressed through regulations, revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices and other published administrative guidance. The Priority Guidance Plan contains projects the Treasury hopes to complete during the 12-month period from July 2, 2017 through June 30, 2018. We previously posted on the first quarter 2017-2018 Priority Guidance plan here.

Most of the projects do not involve the issuance of new regulations, instead focus on guidance to taxpayers on a variety of tax issues important to individuals and businesses in the form of: (1) revocations of final, temporary, or proposed regulations (for our prior coverage, see here); (2) notices, revenue rulings and revenue procedures; (3) simplifying and burden reducing amendments to existing regulations; (4) proposed regulations; or (5) final regulations adopting proposed regulations. The initial 2017-2108 Priority Guidance Plan consisted of 198 guidance projects, 30 of which have already been completed. The second quarter update reflects 29 additional projects, including priority items as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) legislation enacted on December 22, 2017, and guidance published or released from October 13, 2017 through December 31, 2017.

Continue Reading IRS Releases Second Quarter Update to 2017-2018 Priority Guidance Plan

Tax reform is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may receive additional funds to implement the new tax law. With lowered tax rates, accelerated expensing and forced repatriation of foreign earnings comes an increased risk of an IRS audit. This brave new tax world has left so many questions that tax advisors’ phones have been ringing off the hooks! But as the end of the 2017 year and first quarter of 2018 dust settles, be mindful of the IRS audit to come. Continue Reading Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

On December 13, 2017, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) held that a family office was appropriately treated as a business, and permitted to deduct its expenses pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 162. In Lender Management LLC v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2017-246, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) argued that the taxpayer’s expenses should be properly claimed pursuant to Code Section 212 because the family office was not a business for federal income tax purposes, and instead its expenses were merely costs of its investment activities. Whether or not a family office is a business is important because deductions under Code Section 212 are substantially limited.

The taxpayer was the family office to the Lender’s Bagels fortune. It was owned by two Lender family trusts. In 2010 and 2011, the taxpayer reported net losses on its returns and reported net income in 2012 and 2013. The taxpayer provided direct management services to three limited liability companies (LLCs), each of which elected to be treated as a partnership. The owners of the LLCs were the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the founder.

Continue Reading Court Rules That a Family Office Is a Business!

The tax bar is abuzz with the talk of tax reform. Clients are in modeling purgatory, trying to calculate its effects and plan for the future. Public accounting firms are suggesting how to accelerate deductions in 2017 to take advantage of the massive tax rate decline in 2018. Now more than ever, there are substantial economic incentives to accelerate deductions in 2017 and defer income until 2018. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and the end to what bodes to be a historic year for federal tax!

Not to be a Grinch, but consider the following as you prepare for year end. If you attempt to accelerate any deductions, make sure to have a complete, “audit-ready” file if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) decides to test your position. Consider how you will protect against the assertion of any penalties; typically, your ticket to get of out penalty “prison” is to maintain proper substantiation and to establish a reasonable cause defense. An opinion of counsel is one method to meet your burden of establishing that defense. It is always better to be proactive and anticipate an IRS audit than to be reactive and try to compile the proper documentation after-the-fact.

In Estate of Levine v. Commissioner, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) rejected an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) attempt to expand upon the privilege waiver principles set forth in AD Inv. 2000 Fund LLC v. Commissioner. As background, the Tax Court held in AD Investments that asserting a good-faith and reasonable-cause defense to penalties places a taxpayer’s state of mind at issue and can waive attorney-client privilege. We have previously covered how some courts have narrowly applied AD Investments.

In Estate of Levine, the IRS served a subpoena seeking all documents that an estate’s return preparer and his law firm had in their files for a more-than-ten-year period, beginning several years before the estate return was filed and ending more than four years after a notice of deficiency (i.e., which led to the Tax Court case) was issued. The law firm prepared the estate plan and the estate tax return in issue. The law firm represented the estate during the audit, and after the notice of deficiency was issued, the law firm was engaged to represent the estate in “pending litigation with the IRS.”   Continue Reading Tax Court Says IRS’s “Drift-Net” Argument to Expand Privilege Waiver Must Be Anchored in Principles

On October 30, 2017, Paul Manafort Jr. was indicted for concealing his interests in several foreign bank accounts, as well as tax evasion and a host of other criminal charges.  The indictment reminds us how important it is to follow the strict guidelines of the reporting regime that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Department of the Treasury have established to disclose foreign bank accounts.

Pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act, a US citizen or resident (a US Person) is required to disclose certain foreign bank and financial accounts which he or she has “a financial interest in or signature authority over” annually.  This obligation can be triggered by direct or indirect interests; a US Person is treated as having a financial interest in a foreign account through indirect ownership of more than 50 percent of the voting power or equity of a foreign entity, like a corporation or partnership.  The US Person is required to annually disclose the interest on FinCEN 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, which is commonly referred to as the FBAR.  The disclosure requirement is triggered when the aggregate value of the foreign account exceeds $10,000.  The form is filed with your federal income tax return.

The civil penalties for failing to timely disclose an interest in a foreign account can be severe, and in the case of willful violations, can reach up to 50 percent of the highest aggregate annual balance of the unreported foreign financial account each year.  The statute of limitations for FBAR violations is six years, and the willful penalty may be assessed for more than one year, creating extreme financial consequences for FBAR reporting failures.

Continue Reading Manafort Indictment Is a Good Reminder of FBAR Disclosure Requirements

The October 2017 issue of Focus on Tax Strategies & Developments has been published. This issue includes five articles that provide insight into US federal and international tax developments and trends across a range of industries, as well as strategies for navigating these complex issues.

Republican Leaders Release Tax Reform Framework
By David G. Noren Alexander Lee

M&A Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework
By Alexander Lee, Alejandro Ruiz and Timothy S. Shuman

State and Local Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework
By Peter L. Faber

Grecian Magnesite Mining v. Commissioner: Foreign Investor Not Subject to US Tax on Sale of Partnership Interest
Kristen E. Hazel, Sandra P. McGill and Susan O’Banion

The IRS Attacks Taxpayers’ Section 199 (Computer Software) Deductions
Kevin Spencer, Robin L. Greenhouse and Jean A. Pawlow


Read the full issue of Focus on Tax Strategies & Developments

We have previously reported on the various forums in which taxpayers can litigate tax cases, noting that the vast majority of tax cases are litigated in the US Tax Court (Tax Court). The Tax Court is the preferred forum for several reasons, including that the judges are all tax specialists, and taxpayers can litigate their case without having to pay the tax beforehand. Trial sessions and other work of the Tax court are conducted by presidentially appointed judges, senior judges serving on recall and Special Trial Judges. These judges travel nationwide to conduct trials in designated cities.

We have also previously noted important procedural developments and other news from the Tax Court, such as proposals to changes the Court’s rules: Tax Court Considering Requiring Notice of Non-Party Subpoenas, Tax Court Anticipates Releasing Revisions to its Rules in the Near Future and Tax Court Adopts Rules for Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability Complaints. According to recent media reports, the Tax Court is currently considering whether to use teleconference technology to take testimony from witnesses remotely, rather than requiring a witness’ physical appearance in Court. Continue Reading Tax Court Considering Allowing Remote Testimony

On October 20, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published Office of Chief Counsel Internal Revenue Service Memorandum 20174201F (FSA), legal advice written by a field attorney in the Office of Chief Counsel that was reviewed by an associate office, which deals with a merchant bank’s claim that its revenue from merchant discount fees qualifies as Domestic Product Gross Receipts (DPGR) under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 199. According to the FSA, on its amended return the taxpayer claimed a Code Section 199 deduction with respect to its merchant discount fees based on the third-party comparable exception for online software found in Treasury Regulation § 1.199-3(i)(6)(ii)(B). The taxpayer argued that the merchant discount fees were derived from the use of computer software, the software “Platform.” The taxpayer took solace in the fact that third parties derived gross receipts from the disposition of substantially identical software. Accordingly, the taxpayer argued that the merchant discount fees should be treated as DPGR pursuant to the third party comparable exception.

The IRS, however, had a very different perspective. Its analysis began with the threshold question of whether there was a “disposition” of the Platform. The IRS concluded that the taxpayer did not dispose of the Platform because the taxpayer did not lease, rent, license, sell, exchange or otherwise dispose of the Platform as required by Treasury Regulation § 1.199-3(i)(6)(i). Moreover, the IRS concluded that the merchant discount fees represented remuneration for “online services” (e.g., online banking services) per Treasury Regulation §1.199-3(i)(6)(i). Because the taxpayer did not establish that there was a disposition of the Platform, the third party comparability exception in Treasury Regulation § 1.199-3(i)(6)(ii)(B) is inapplicable—the merchant discount fees were derived “from the provision of merchant acquiring services.”

Practice Point: We have reported extensively on the IRS’s attacks on taxpayer’s ability to claim the IRC section 199 deduction for computer software and qualified film production. The issue is also on the IRS’s annual Guidance Plan as an area in which the IRS expects to issue regulations within the next year. The FSA is further proof that taxpayers and the IRS do not see eye-to-eye on these issues. Indeed, there are presently several docketed cases seeking judicial determinations regarding the applicability of the third-party comparable exception. Because we have several clients who have this same issue, we are watching it closely, and will report back with any developments.