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Fifth Circuit Rules that Law Firm Clients’ Identities Are Not Privileged

In Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm P.L.L.C. v. United States, No. 19-50506, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a Texas-based estate and tax-planning law firm (Firm) could not invoke the attorney-client privilege against an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) summons seeking the identity of its clients.

According to an IRS revenue agent’s declaration submitted in support of the summons, the Firm became a target for IRS investigation following an audit of one of its clients, an individual who had used the Firm’s services to establish and operate various foreign accounts and entities, through which the individual had funneled millions of dollars of unreported income. The IRS issued a John Doe summons to the Firm seeking, amongst other things, the identities of other clients for whom it had established foreign accounts or entities.

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Weekly IRS Roundup February 17 – 21, 2020

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of February 17 – 21, 2020.

February 18, 2020:  The IRS issued a revenue ruling providing various prescribed rates for federal income tax purposes for March 2020, including various applicable federal rates (AFRs) for purposes of IRC section 1274(d) and adjusted AFRs for purposes of IRC section 1288(b) and section 382(f). The revenue ruling also contains the federal rate to determine the present value of annuities and other future interests for purposes of IRC section 7520.

February 19, 2020:  The IRS issued a revenue procedure establishing a safe harbor under which the IRS will treat partnerships as properly allocating, in accordance with IRC section 704(b), the credit for carbon oxide sequestration under IRC section 45Q. In a related news release, the IRS stated that the safe harbor is similar to the safe harbors developed for partnerships receiving the wind energy production tax credit and the rehabilitation credit. The safe harbor will be effective for transactions entered into on or after March 9, 2020, and provides rules that allow for prior transactions to qualify for similar treatment.

February 19, 2020:  The IRS published final regulations that correct TD 9885, the base erosion and anti-abuse regulations that were published on December 6, 2019. The amendments restructure the sentence addressing “a principal purpose” of avoiding a base erosion payment; the amendments also correct Treas. Reg. § 1.6038A-2(g) to say that returns must be included “on or after” June 7, 2021.

February 19, 2020:  The IRS issued a notice providing guidance on the corporate bond monthly yield curve, the corresponding spot segment rates used under IRC section 417(e)(3), and the 24-month average segment rates under IRC section 430(h)(2). The notice also provides guidance as to the interest rate on 30-year Treasury securities under IRC section 417(e)(3)(A)(ii)(II) as in effect for plan years beginning before 2008 and the 30-year Treasury weighted average rate under IRC section 431(c)(6)(E)(ii)(I).

February 19, 2020:  The IRS issued a news release reporting that the J5 tax chiefs—leaders from five international tax organizations, including the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit—met in Sydney this past week to review the J5’s progress in their fight against transnational crime. The J5 was formed upon the OECD’s suggestion and has recently engaged in a globally coordinated “day of action” against an international financial institution suspected of facilitating money laundering and tax evasion.

February 19, 2020:  The Treasury and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released a final rule to reflect inflation adjustments to its civil monetary penalties. The updated penalty adjustment table is listed in 31 CFR Section 1010.821, and it includes civil monetary penalties for various types of violations, including penalties for violations of Bank Secrecy Act requirements.

February 20, 2020:  The IRS released draft instructions to Form 8978, Partner’s Additional Reporting Year Tax, to reflect changes to the audit procedures of partnerships under the 2015 BBA. [...]

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IRS Issues Transition Tax Compliance Campaign

On November 4, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a new Large Business and International (LB&I) compliance campaign regarding Section’s 965 transition tax under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This is one of several dozen compliance campaigns that LB&I has announced since the initial 13 campaigns were identified in 2017, and is part of LB&I’s larger goals of improving return selection, identifying issues representing a risk of noncompliance and making the greatest use of limited resources. We have written at length regarding the IRS’s campaigns. Click here for prior coverage of the IRS’s campaigns. This announcement comes just over a month after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of campaign issue selection. We wrote about the TIGTA report here. The IRS is presumably heeding TIGTA’s recommendation and is focused on Section 965 because of the substantial dollars associated with compliance. A list of all campaigns can be found here (the newest campaign is found under the tab “IRC 965”).

Section 965 was part of tax reform in the TCJA. It generally imposes a transition tax on a US shareholder’s pro rata share of accumulated earnings and profits of certain foreign corporations, as if those earnings had been repatriated to the US. The new campaign will focus examinations on US-based multinational companies’ 2017 and 2018 returns to ensure compliance with the transition tax in Section 965. The campaign will also provide technical assistance to IRS teams working on Section 965 issues, with a focus on identifying and addressing taxpayer populations with potential material compliance risk.

Practice Point: Multinational taxpayers should be mindful of this new campaign and aware of any compliance issues they may face. Taxpayers should be aware that returns selected for the transition tax campaign will also be examined for other material issues, especially those related to TCJA planning.




Finally the IRS Clarifies Its Position on Cryptocurrency

It took five years, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has finally released some guidance on the taxation of cryptocurrencies! On October 9, 2019, the IRS released Revenue Ruling 2019-24 and several “frequently asked questions” (and answers) which deal with some (but not all) of the federal income tax issues involved with cryptocurrencies.

Over the years, we have reported on the issues involved with cryptocurrencies, including the potential controversies that have ensued because of a lack of guidance.

The new guidance is welcomed by tax professionals and taxpayers. The guidance adopts traditional tax principles to deal with some of the unique aspects of cryptocurrencies. For example, the guidance addresses the tax treatment of so-called “hard forks” and whether the value of the “fork” which is “airdropped” into the taxpayer’s wallet constitutes taxable income.

Practice Point: Cryptocurrencies are a brave new world for most of us. Having thoughtful, current guidance is helpful to tax professionals and taxpayers, and will (hopefully) lead to better and more efficient administration of our tax system.




Taxpayer First Act: Changes to the IRS Appeals Process

The enactment of the Taxpayer First Act, H.R. 3151 (116th Cong.) (TFA) brings with it several changes to the procedures and operations of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The TFA touches on the following subjects:

  • Establishing the IRS Independent Office of Appeals
  • Improving customer service
  • Changes to enforcement
  • Modernization of the Office of the National Taxpayer Advocate and the IRS
  • Cybersecurity and identity protection, technological changes, and expanded use of electronic systems
  • IRS hiring and disclosure changes
  • Provisions relating to exempt organizations
  • Changes to the penalty for failure to file
  • Determination of budgetary effects
  • Other miscellaneous provisions

This post does not discuss each subject, but rather focuses on changes to the IRS Appeals process. (more…)




Is an Increase in LB&I Assertion of Penalties on the Horizon?

On May 31, 2019, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a report indicating that changes may be in the works regarding assertion of accuracy-related penalties in examinations handled by the IRS Large Business & International (LB&I) Division.

The TIGTA report reviewed the results of closed LB&I examinations for the fiscal years 2015 through 2017 and concluded that the IRS assessed accuracy-related penalties upon only 6% of the 4,600 examined returns with additional tax assessments of $10,000 or more. In comparison, the IRS Small Business / Self Employed (SB/SE) Division assessed accuracy-related penalties upon 25% of its examined returns with additional tax assessments of $10,000 or more. (more…)




Sacked in Tax Court! Procedural Missteps by the IRS Leave the Government’s Blindside Exposed

In Kearse v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-53, the Tax Court held the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) abused its discretion as part of the taxpayer’s Collection Due Process hearing (CDP hearing) because the Appeals officer failed to properly verify that the assessment of the taxpayer’s unpaid 2010 liability was preceded by a duly mailed notice of deficiency.

The taxpayer, well-known to sports fans, was Jevon Kearse. Mr. Kearse, nicknamed “The Freak” for his athletic ability, played for 11 seasons in the National Football League and tallied 74 career sacks as a dominating defensive end. Based on the description of events by the Tax Court, Mr. Kearse’s attorneys outmaneuvered the IRS similar to the way Mr. Kearse had offensive tackles tripping over their shoestrings. (more…)




What Happens At Exam, Stays At Exam!

A recent case decided by the US Tax Court reminds us that when you litigate a case in Tax Court, what happened during the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examination and Appeals bears very little relevance (if any) once you get to court. Generally, Tax Court’s proceedings are de novo, and the court looks solely to the IRS’s position in the Notice of Deficiency (Notice). The Revenue Agent’s Report and other statements made by the IRS before the issuance of the Notice are typically ignored.

In Moya v. Commissioner, 152 TC No. 11 (Apr. 17, 2019), the IRS determined deficiencies related to the disallowance of certain business expense deductions. The taxpayer did not assign error to the disallowance, but instead argued that the Notice was invalid because the IRS had violated her right to be informed and her right to be heard under an IRS news release and an IRS publication outlining various rights of taxpayers. Specifically, the taxpayer asserted that she had requested that her examination proceedings be transferred to California after she had moved from Las Vegas to Santa Cruz, and that the IRS had violated the her rights by providing vague and inconsistent responses to, and by ultimately denying, her request. (more…)




Desmond Renominated as Chief Counsel

On March 2, 2018, President Trump nominated Michael Desmond to be the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unfortunately, the Senate did not get around to confirming him. On January 16, 2019, President Trump renominated Mr. Desmond, and the US Senate Committee on Finance has scheduled a hearing for February 5th to consider his renomination.

The Chief Counsel is the top legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws. The Chief Counsel also provides legal guidance and interpretive advice to the IRS, Treasury and to taxpayers. Mr. Desmond clerked for Judge Ronald S.W. Lew of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. From 1995 through 2000, he served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division at the Department of Justice, and from 2005 through 2008 he served as tax legislative counsel at the Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Policy.

Mr. Desmond has a strong reputation in the tax community, and we hope that his nomination is acted on immediately.




Joint Committee Releases Overview of Its Refund Review Process

Clients ask us all of the time, “What is the Joint Committee on Taxation’s (JCT) process for reviewing refund claims granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?” Recently, the JCT has released an overview of its process. Wait, what? After the IRS has agreed to issue you a refund, there is a congressional committee that has to check the IRS’s work? Yep!

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §6405 prohibits the IRS/US Department of the Treasury from issuing certain refund payments to taxpayers until 30 days after a “report” is given to the JCT. Only refunds “in excess” of $5 million for corporate taxpayers and $2 million for all other taxpayers (partnerships, individuals, trusts, etc.) are required to be reported to the JCT. A refund claim is an amount listed on an amended return (e.g., Forms 1140X and 1120X), tentative carrybacks (e.g., Forms 1139 and 1045), and refunds attributable to certain disaster losses. Numerous types of refund payments are excepted from JCT review, including refunds claimed on originally filed returns, resulting from litigation and employment taxes. It is important to note that this process is not limited to the IRS Examination stage; it can also occur at the IRS Appeals stage or even in tax court litigation. (more…)




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