On October 4, 2017, the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) announced that it would withdraw more than 200 regulations, including the proposed regulations under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 2704. The announcement is part of President Trump’s initiative to lessen the regulatory burden on taxpayers due to excessive regulations. In a press statement, Treasury explained that the Code Section 2704 proposed regulations were being withdrawn because they:

…would have hurt family-owned and operated businesses by limiting valuation discounts. The regulations would have made it difficult and costly for a family to transfer their businesses to the next generation. Commenters warned that the valuation requirements of the proposed regulations were unclear and could not be meaningfully applied.

Numerous practitioners were critical of the proposed regulations because they disregarded restrictions for valuation purposes on the ability to liquidate family-controlled entities. Since the release of the proposed regulations in the summer of 2016, estate tax planning and valuation professionals have noted that the proposed regulations were vague, difficult to apply and resulted in inaccurately high estate valuations. Indeed, if finalized, the proposed regulations would have disallowed discounts for lack of control and marketability commonly used by families in wealth transfer planning.

Practice Point: With the withdraw of the proposed Code Section 2704 regulations, the use of liquidation restrictions to reduce the valuation of a closely-held family business continues to be an effective wealth transfer planning tool. For further context, we covered the initial rollout of the 2016 regulations proposed by Treasury and the withdrawal of the same.

In recent months, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International Division (LB&I) has issued a variety of international tax practice “units” as part of its process to improve tax compliance from identified groups of business taxpayers. The overall process also includes short descriptions of respective “campaigns” and briefly describes the agency’s designated, tailored treatment or treatments for each campaign.

Most recently, it issued a unit on the mutual agreement procedure (MAP), commonly referred to as the Competent Authority Process under bilateral tax treaties (Doc Control No. ISO/P/01_07_03-01). The purpose of the unit is to provide IRS examiners (for the most part, the unit does not address foreign-initiated adjustments) with clear guidance on their responsibility in situations where proposed adjustments will be made in a context in which the taxpayer could potentially face double taxation, consistent with the most recent revenue procedure (Rev. Proc.) 2015-40. The unit also provides a helpful checklist for taxpayers in such situations.

The unit amplifies the guidance in Rev. Proc. 2015-40 with respect to both issues arising in Advance Pricing and Mutual Agreement (APMA) and Treaty Assistance and Interpretation Team (TAIT) (for non-transfer pricing issues). The discussion is consistent with current practice. Critical issues addressed include the following. Continue Reading International Practice Units – Competent Authority

On September 21, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2017-52 which introduces an 18 month pilot program expanding the scope of the IRS’s ruling practice with respect to distributions under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 355. Prior to Revenue Procedure 2017-52, the IRS had determined that it would not issue letter rulings on whether a distribution qualified for tax-free treatment under Code Section 355. See Revenue Procedure 2013-32. Instead, the IRS had limited its rulings under Code Section 355 to merely addressing “significant issues.” Id. Now, with the introduction of Revenue Procedure 2017-52, a taxpayer may obtain a “transactional ruling” that specifically addresses the general federal income tax consequences of a transaction intended to qualify as tax-free under Section 355.

Practice Point: A letter ruling is an excellent way for taxpayers to gain certainty with respect to a Section 355 transaction and to head off potential controversy with the IRS.

On September 7, 2017, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report about the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedures. After reviewing a statistically valid sample of FOIA requests, TIGTA concluded that the IRS improperly withheld information 14.3 percent of the time—or approximately 1 in 7 FOIA requests.

TIGTA also found that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, there were 334 backlogged information requests. Below is a chart from the report showing the IRS’s recent history of backlogged FOIA requests.

TIGTA’s findings are consistent with our experiences with FOIA requests. It is not unusual for the IRS to make repeated requests for extensions to respond. We note further that, during an examination, the IRS is statutorily authorized to provide taxpayers access to their administrative file. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Manual confirms this at section 4.2.5.7 (June 15, 2017). Yet the IRS examination team often requires a FOIA request.

Practice Point 1: As a result of the IRS’s FOIA backlog, some taxpayers have resorted to filing lawsuits in federal district court to enforce their FOIA rights. Because the IRS must respond to court deadlines, taxpayers are sometimes able to force a more expedient response and move to the front of the response line.

Practice Point 2: Taxpayers should attempt to tailor their FOIA requests, only requesting the information in which they are interested. In theory, this could make the IRS’s job easier and, in turn, responses more timely.

Practice Point 3: If taxpayers intend to seek information from the government through the FOIA process, they should do so as soon as possible (e.g., at the beginning of the examination process) so that they may get the information in time to be useful.

On September 29, 2017, Judge Mark Holmes of the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) issued an order in the estate tax valuation case brought by the Estate of Michael Jackson (the Estate). In the case, the Estate moved to strike the testimony of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) valuation expert witness on the grounds that he lied. The IRS acknowledged that its expert “did not tell the truth when he testified that he did not work on or write a valuation report for the IRS Examination Division in the third-party taxpayer audit.” Apparently, the expert had worked on the valuation of Whitney Houston’s Estate on behalf of the IRS, and failed to list the engagement in his report. He also omitted one publication that he wrote and one case in which he provided expert-witness testimony at a deposition.

The question for the Court was the proper remedy for the omissions, with sanctions ranging from striking all of the expert’s testimony (and thereby depriving the IRS of the only evidence in its favor on the key issues in the case) to discounting the expert’s testimony and weight to be given to his opinions. The Court decided to take the latter route.

The Court explained that striking expert testimony pursuant to Tax Court Practice and Procedure Rule 143(g) (governing expert witness reports) occurs when a putative expert omits information from the report without good cause for the omission. In this case, the Court explained that the IRS’s expert failed to disclose his valuation work on his long list of expert-testimony engagements attached to his resume, but ruled that the omission was merely a “clerical error.” However, the expert did provide false testimony at trial when he testified he did not work on or write a valuation report in the matter involving Whitney Houston’s Estate. The Court determined that there had to be some negative consequences for the expert’s false testimony, and settled on discounting his credibility and opinions.

Practice Point: The order in Estate of Michael Jackson, as well as the Tax Court’s prior opinion in Tucker v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2017-183, highlight a very important aspect of preparing an expert report for submission in Tax Court: it must be complete and accurate at the time of its submission. It is good practice to run a litigation database search (e.g., Lexis or Westlaw) on your expert’s testimony experience as a check on what the expert has listed in his report.

Female tax professionals gathered in McDermott Will & Emery’s New York office for an annual New York rendition of Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable on Thursday, September 14. Featuring a CLE/CPE presentation about Privilege and the Ethics of Social Media by Kristen Hazel and Robin Greenhouse, an update on tax reform by Sandra McGill and an overview of recent state and local tax news by Alysse McLoughlin, the event culminated in a networking reception over cocktails.

Topics covered at the event included:

  • Best practices for preserving attorney-client privilege and work product protection; strategies to prevent an inadvertent waiver.
  • Ethics of social media (think before you post).
  • Tax reform:
    • Where are we now (framework to be issued week of September 25 and legislation sometime in October, possibly after budget).
    • What could tax reform look like (e.g., reduced tax rate, one-time tax on unrepatriated foreign earnings, move to territorial tax with DRD and corresponding changes to foreign tax credit system, changes to IRS Subpart F, elimination of certain deductions and/or adjustments to the taxation of carried interests).
    • What should taxpayers be thinking about (e.g., taking steps to best position your organization to proactively react to tax reform both now and when the reform measures become effective).
  • Status of certain tax regulations identified in Notice 2017-38 per mandate of EO 13789: Treasury provided recommendations to President Trump on September 18, 2017, and its report should be published sometime this month. We discussed possible change/revocation/deferred effective dates for regulations under Sections 367, 385 and 987 and steps taxpayers are taking today to address these regulations.
  • Partnership Update:
    • New TEFRA rules are effective January 1, 2018: TEFRA partnership agreements should be reviewed; assess whether the agreement should be amended (or other agreements implemented) to address these new rules.
    • Grecian Magnesite Mining: Tax Court held that gain derived by foreign person from disposition of its interest in a partnership engaged in US trade or business was treated as the disposition of a capital asset not as the disposition of the partner’s share of the underlying partnership assets and was not subject to US federal income tax as effectively connected income. It is unclear whether this case will be appealed.
  • State tax apportionment issues: We discussed the difficulty in establishing the proper level of reserves due to both the uncertainty in applying the statutory sourcing methods and the state taxing authorities’ ability to use their discretionary authority to revise the statutory sourcing methods.

We invite all tax professionals who identify as female to join Tax in the City®’s official LinkedIn group to continue the conversation and share tax developments in between events and meetings! Click here to join.

Established in 2014 by McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Tax in the City® is a discussion and networking group for women in tax that fosters collaboration and mentorship and facilitates in-person connections and roundtable events around the country. This New York edition of Tax in the City® was the third event this year, and there are two more events in the works—an inaugural Seattle event on October 12, and then an end-of-year event in our Chicago office on December 14.