California tax attorney Blog

Articles Posted in Tax Controversy

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled yesterday that same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriages, will be treated as married for federal tax purposes. The ruling applies regardless of whether the couple lives in a jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage or a jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The ruling implements federal tax aspects of the June 26th Supreme Court decision invalidating a key provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

“Today’s ruling provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide. It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve,” said Secretary Jacob J. Lew. “This ruling also assures legally married same-sex couples that they can move freely throughout the country knowing that their federal filing status will not change.”

Under the ruling, same sex couples will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes, including income and gift and estate taxes. The ruling applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, claiming personal and dependency exemptions, taking the standard deduction, employee benefits, contributing to an IRA, and claiming the earned income tax credit or child tax credit.

Any same-sex marriage legally entered into in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, a U.S. territory, or a foreign country will be covered by the ruling. However, the ruling does not apply to registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

Legally-married same-sex couples generally must file their 2013 federal income tax return using either the “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately” filing status.

Individuals who were in same-sex marriages may, but are not required to, file original or amended returns choosing to be treated as married for federal tax purposes for one or more prior tax years still open under the statute of limitations.

Generally, the statute of limitations for filing a refund claim is three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. As a result, refund claims can still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Some taxpayers may have special circumstances (such as signing an agreement with the IRS to keep the statute of limitations open) that permit them to file refund claims for tax years 2009 and earlier.

Additionally, employees who purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from their employers on an after-tax basis may treat the amounts paid for that coverage as pre-tax and excludable from income.

How to File a Claim for Refund Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for income taxes should use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Taxpayers who wish to file a refund claim for gift or estate taxes should file Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.

For information on filing an amended return, go to Tax Topic 308, Amended Returns at or the Instructions to Forms 1040X and 843. Information on where to file your amended returns is available in the instructions to the form.

Future Guidance Treasury and the IRS intend to issue streamlined procedures for employers who wish to file refund claims for payroll taxes paid on previously-taxed health insurance and fringe benefits provided to same-sex spouses. Treasury and IRS also intend to issue further guidance on cafeteria plans and on how qualified retirement plans and other tax-favored arrangements should treat same-sex spouses for periods before the effective date of this Revenue Ruling.

A check written in 2012 that does not clear until 2013 is at risk of being a 2013 gift, not a 2012 gift, since the donor could have stopped payment in 2013 before it cleared. The issue with using checks to make gifts is that until the check clears the bank, the donor can revoke the gift by issuing a stop payment or by removing adequate funds from the bank account. A gift that can be revoked is not complete until revocability ends. The U.S. Supreme Court said as much in the case of Smith v. Shaughnessy, 318 U.S. 176 (1943).

The Tax Court and the Federal Court of Appeals (of the 4th Circuit) spell out when gifts by check will “good” gifts. Those cases are Gagliardi Est. v. Comr., 89 T.C. 1207 (1987); Metzger Est. v. Comr., 100 T.C. 204 (1993), aff’d 38 F.3d 118 (4th Cir. 1994).

The IRS in 1996 issued Revenue Ruling 96-56, 1996-2 C.B. 161 which provides a safe harbor mechanism to assure last minute 2012 gift tax treatment in the waning days of this year.

Under that ruling a gift by check delivered in 2012 will be a gift as of the date the check is deposited or presented for payment if:

1) the check was deposited, cashed, or presented in 2012 and within a reasonable time of issuance;

2) the donor intended to make a gift;

3) the check was paid by the drawee bank when first presented to the drawee bank for payment;

4) delivery of the check by the donor was unconditional; and

5) the donor was alive when the check was paid by the drawee bank.

So, to be certain your 2012 gift will be treated as made in 2012 and not 2013, you need to (a) deliver the check to the donee in 2012 (with adequate funds in the bank for it to clear), (b) assure the donee deposits it in 2012 and within a reasonable time of issuance, and (c) stay alive at least until after the check clears.

For more information about Death and Taxes, call Mitchell A. Port at 310.559.5259 for a free consultation.

A tax loophole is “something that benefits the other guy. If it benefits you, it is tax reform.”
– Russell B. Long, U.S. Senator
“People who complain about taxes can be divided into two classes: men and women.”
– Unknown
“Like mothers, taxes are often misunderstood, but seldom forgotten.” – Lord Bramwell, 19th Century English jurist
When it comes to taxes, everyone has an opinion. These quotes reflect the opinions of their authors; their inclusion here is not an official IRS endorsement of the sentiments expressed.

“To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.” – Edmund Burke, 18th Century Irish political philosopher and British statesman
“No government can exist without taxation. This money must necessarily be levied on the people; and the grand art consists of levying so as not to oppress.” – Frederick the Great, 18th Century Prussian king
“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice
“I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is – I could be just as proud for half the money.” – Arthur Godfrey, entertainer
“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” – Albert Einstein, physicist
“The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.” – Arthur C. Clarke, author
“The power of taxing people and their property is essential to the very existence of government.” – James Madison, U.S. President
“Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is really quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.” – F. J. Raymond, humorist
“Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.” – Plato
“Taxation with representation ain’t so hot either.” – Gerald Barzan, humorist
“Few of us ever test our powers of deduction, except when filling out an income tax form.”
– Laurence J. Peter, author
“Income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf.” – Will Rogers, humorist

Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings just came out with it’s rating of me. I have been honored with an “AV Preeminent” rating which is a significant rating accomplishment- a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence. My piers gave me a rating of 5 out of 5 in all possible areas analyzed: Legal Knowledge, Analytical Capabilities, Judgment, Communication Ability, Legal Experience. I’m pleased and honored. The Ratings are an objective indicator of a lawyer’s high ethical standards and professional ability. Attorneys receive a Peer Review Ratings based on evaluations by other members of the bar and the judiciary in the United States.

The following questions and answers provide information to same-sex domestic partners, same-sex individuals in civil unions and same-sex couples whose marriage is recognized by state law.

Publication 555, Community Property, provides general information for taxpayers, including registered domestic partners and same-sex spouses, who reside in community property states.

Q. Can a same-sex partner itemize deductions if his or her partner claims a standard deduction?

A. Yes. A same-sex partner may itemize or claim the standard deduction regardless of whether his or her partner itemizes or claims the standard deduction. Although the law prohibits one spouse from itemizing deductions if the other spouse claims the standard deduction (section 63(c)(6)(A)), same-sex partners are not spouses as defined by federal law, and this provision does not apply to them.

Q. Is a same-sex partner the stepparent of his or her partner’s child?

A. If a same-sex partner is the stepparent of his or her partner’s child under the laws of the state in which the partners reside, then the same-sex partner is the stepparent of the child for federal income tax purposes.

Q. Can same-sex partners who are legally married for state law purposes file federal tax returns using a married filing jointly or married filing separately status?

A. No. Same-sex partners may not file using a married filing separately or jointly filing status because federal law does not treat same-sex partners as married for federal tax purposes.

Q. Can a taxpayer use the head-of-household filing status if the taxpayer’s only dependent is his or her same-sex partner?

A. No. A taxpayer cannot file as head of household if the taxpayer’s only dependent is his or her same-sex partner. A taxpayer’s same-sex partner is not one of the related individuals described in the law that qualifies the taxpayer to file as head of household, even if the same-sex partner is the taxpayer’s dependent.

Q. If a same-sex couple adopts a child together, can one or both of the same-sex partners qualify for the adoption credit?

A. Yes. Each same-sex partner may qualify to claim the adoption credit on the amount of the qualified adoption expenses paid or incurred for the adoption. The same-sex partners may not both claim credit for the same qualified adoption expenses, and neither same-sex partner may claim more than the amount of expenses that he or she paid or incurred. The adoption credit is limited to $13,360 per child in 2011. Thus, if two same-sex partners each paid qualified adoption expenses to adopt the same child, and the total of those expenses exceeds $13,360, the maximum credit available for the adoption is $13,360. The same-sex partners may allocate this maximum between them in any way they agree, but the amount allocated to a same-sex partner may not be more than the amount of expenses he or she paid or incurred. The same rules generally apply in the case of a special needs adoption. The total credit for such an adoption is limited to $13,360, but the amount that each same-sex partner may claim is not limited by the amount of expenses paid or incurred.

Q. If a taxpayer adopts the child of his or her same-sex partner as a second parent or co-parent, may the taxpayer (“adopting parent”) claim the adoption credit for the qualifying adoption expenses he or she pays or incurs to adopt the child?

A. Yes. The adopting parent may claim an adoption credit to the extent provided under the law. The law does not allow taxpayers to claim an adoption credit for expenses incurred in adopting the child of the taxpayer’s spouse. However, this limitation does not apply to adoptions by same-sex partners because same-sex partners, even if married for state law purposes, are not treated as spouses under federal law.

Q. Do provisions of the federal tax law such as section 66 (treatment of community income) and section 469(i)(5) (passive loss rules for rental real estate activities) that apply to married taxpayers apply to same-sex partners?

A. No. Like other provisions of the federal tax law that apply only to spouses or married taxpayers, section 66 and section 469(i)(5) do not apply to same-sex partners because federal law does not treat same-sex partners as married for federal tax purposes.

Q. If a child is a qualifying child under section 152(c) of both parents who are same-sex partners, which parent may claim the child as a dependent?

A. If a child is a qualifying child under section 152(c) of both parents who are same-sex partners, either parent, but not both, may claim a dependency deduction for the qualifying child. If both parents claim a dependency deduction for the child on their income tax returns, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child of the parent with whom the child resides for the longer period of time. If the child resides with each parent for the same amount of time during the taxable year, the IRS will treat the child as the qualifying child of the parent with the higher adjusted gross income.

You are legally responsible for what’s on their tax return even if it is prepared by someone else. So, it is important to choose carefully when hiring an individual or firm to prepare your return. Choose your preparer wisely.

As a reminder, the IRS encourages you to use only preparers who sign the tax returns they prepare and enter their Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs).

Here are a few points to keep in mind when someone else prepares your return:

Make sure the tax preparer is accessible. Make sure you will be able to contact the tax preparer after the return has been filed, even after the April due date, in case questions arise.

Find out about their service fees. Avoid preparers who base their fee on a percentage of your refund or those who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. Also, always make sure any refund due is sent to you or deposited into an account in your name. Under no circumstances should all or part of your refund be directly deposited into a preparer’s bank account.

Check the person’s qualifications. New regulations require all paid tax return preparers to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). In addition to making sure they have a PTIN, ask if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization and attends continuing education classes. The IRS is also phasing in a new test requirement to make sure those who are not an enrolled agent, CPA, or attorney have met minimal competency requirements. Those subject to the test will become a Registered Tax Return Preparer once they pass it.

Check the preparer’s history. Check to see if the preparer has a questionable history with the Better Business Bureau and check for any disciplinary actions and licensure status through the state boards of accountancy for certified public accountants; the state bar associations for attorneys; and the IRS Office of Enrollment for enrolled agents.

Ask if they offer electronic filing. Any paid preparer who prepares and files more than 10 returns for clients must file the returns electronically, unless the client opts to file a paper return. More than 1 billion individual tax returns have been safely and securely processed since the debut of electronic filing in 1990. Make sure your preparer offers IRS e-file.

Provide all records and receipts needed to prepare your return. Reputable preparers will request to see your records and receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your total income and your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items. Do not use a preparer who is willing to electronically file your return before you receive your Form W-2 using your last pay stub. This is against IRS e-file rules.

Never sign a blank return. Avoid tax preparers that ask you to sign a blank tax form.

Make sure the preparer signs the form and includes his or her preparer tax identification number (PTIN). A paid preparer must sign the return and include his or her PTIN as required by law. Although the preparer signs the return, you are responsible for the accuracy of every item on your return. The preparer must also give you a copy of the return.

Review the entire return before signing it. Before you sign your tax return, review it and ask questions. Make sure you understand everything and are comfortable with the accuracy of the return before you sign it.

Need a referral to a an excellent accountant? Call me for a few names and telephone numbers.

How do I request a copy of my tax return for last year?

It is easy to get a copy of an old tax return.

If you need an exact copy of a previously filed and processed return and all attachments (including Form W-2 (PDF)), you must complete Form 4506 (PDF), Request for Copy of Tax Return, and mail it to the IRS. You will need to include a $57.00 check made payable to “U.S. Treasury”. The fee may be waived if you reside in an official disaster area as declared by the President. It may take the IRS 60 days to process your request and mail your tax return copy or copies.

You can also order a transcript online at this link.

Or, you can simply call the Internal Revenue Service to place your order: 800.908.9946 or at 800-829-1040.

In cases where an exact copy of the return is not needed, tax return and transcripts may be ordered.

A transcript is a computer-generated printout which summarizes your old tax return and includes most of the line items from the return, including any accompanying forms and schedules. The transcript does not show any changes or amendments you or the IRS may have made after your return was accepted by the IRS.

There is no charge for the transcript and you should receive it in 10 business days from the time the Internal Revenue Service receives your request.

Tax return transcripts are generally available for the current and past three years.

In most cases, a tax return transcript will meet the requirements for lending institutions for mortgage verification purposes.

The tax return transcript shows most line items contained on the return as it was originally filed, including any accompanying forms and schedules.

If you need a statement of your tax account which shows changes that you or the IRS made after the original return was filed, you must request a “Tax Account Transcript.”

This transcript shows basic data including marital status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income, taxable income, payments and adjustments made on your account.

As a tax attorney, I often get a copy of a transcript to have what the IRS has for my client. If you have a tax problem and want help fixing it, call Mitchell A. Port at 310.559.5259.

The IRS “Data Book” for the most recent period ending September 30, 2011 is available online at this link.

In that Book is information about the following:

List of Statistical Tables
Statistical Tables
Data Sources, by Subject Area and Table Number
Principal Officers of the Internal Revenue Service
Principal Officers of the Internal Revenue Service
Office of Chief Counsel
Commissioners of Internal Revenue
Chief Counsels for the Internal Revenue Service

One of the more interesting parts of the Book concern:

Enforcement: Collections, Penalties, and Criminal Investigation

Table 16. Delinquent Collection Activities, Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011
Table 17. Civil Penalties Assessed and Abated, by Type of Tax and Type of Penalty, Fiscal Year 2011
Table 18. Criminal Investigation Program, by Status or Disposition, Fiscal Year 2011
During Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the IRS collected, net of credit transfers, $31 billion in unpaid assessments on returns filed with additional tax due.

Fifty nine thousand Offers in Compromise were submitted. Only 20,000 were accepted.

Get tax advice and tax help to solve your federal or state tax problem by calling an experienced attorney. Call Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259.

The California Franchise Tax Board says that if you qualify, your delinquent taxes, penalties and interest can be “compromised” so that your payment of an agreed-upon portion will be treated as if you paid the full amount. Here’s what you need to do to pay pennies on the dollar when you owe income taxes in California:

What you should know before preparing an Offer in Compromise

Are you an Offer in Compromise candidate?

If you are an individual or business taxpayer that does not have the income, assets, or means to pay your tax liability now or in the foreseeable future, you may be a candidate. The Offer in Compromise program allows you to offer a lesser amount for payment of a non-disputed final tax liability.

Generally, we approve an Offer in Compromise when the amount offered represents the most we can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time.

Although we evaluate each case based on its own unique set of facts and circumstances, we give the following factors strong consideration:

• The taxpayer’s ability to pay.
• The amount of equity in the taxpayer’s assets.
• The taxpayer’s present and future income.
• The taxpayer’s present and future expenses.
• The potential for changed circumstances.
• Whether the offer is in the best interest of the state.

Can we process your application?

We will only process your Offer in Compromise application if you have done all of the following:

• You have filed all of the required tax returns. If you have no filing requirement, note it on the application.
• You have fully completed the Offer in Compromise application, and provided all supporting documentation.
• You agreed with the Franchise Tax Board on the amount of tax that you owe.
• You authorized the Franchise Tax board to obtain your consumer credit report and to investigate and verify the information you provided on the application.

Will a collateral agreement be required?

Upon approval, we may require you to enter into a collateral agreement for a term of five years. Generally, a collateral agreement will be required if you have significant potential for increased earnings. A collateral agreement requires you to:

• Pay us a percentage of your future earnings that exceed an agreed upon threshold.

Are collections suspended?

Collection activity is not automatically suspended. If delaying collection activity jeopardizes our ability to collect the tax, we may continue with collection efforts. Interest will continue to accrue.

When should offered funds be submitted?

You should not submit the offered funds until we request them. When we do ask for the funds, submit them by cashiers check or money order.

What documentation is required with the application?

For a check list of required items:
• Personal Income Tax – see page 3 of FTB 4905PIT • Business Income Tax – see page 4 of FTB 4905BE
You have questions? The Franchise Tax Board has these answers:

1. What does the Franchise Tax Board consider a fair offer in relation to the amount due?
Generally, an offer will be accepted when the amount offered is the most the Franchise Tax Board can expect to collect within a reasonable period of time.

2. How long will it take to get a decision on my Offer in Compromise?
Generally, if we accept your offer for processing, we will have a decision to you within 90 days after receiving your offer. If your account is more complex, it may take longer than 90 days.

3. Can I make payments on the offered amount?
No. We require a lump sum payment of the offered amount.

4. Can I apply prior payments to the offered amount?
We cannot apply prior payments toward the offered amount. However, we will consider prior payments and the offered amount compared to the total liability when evaluating your offer.

5. My Internal Revenue Service Offer in Compromise has been accepted. Will the Franchise Tax Board automatically approve my offer?
No. We will evaluate your Franchise Tax Board offer separately from your Internal Revenue Service offer.

6. If the Franchise Tax Board determines that my offer is not acceptable, will I be contacted?
Yes. We will contact you to discuss your account and to determine the most appropriate resolution. For example, if it is determined that you will have the ability to make monthly payments that will exceed the amount offered, we will work with you to establish an installment agreement.

7. Will state tax liens be released if the Franchise Tax Board accepts my offer?
Generally, we release state tax liens upon final approval of your Offer in Compromise.

8. Do I need to have someone represent me?
Representation is not required. The Offer in Compromise program is available to all taxpayers, whether or not they are represented.

9. Can I get relief from the tax liability by filing bankruptcy?
Part or all of your taxes may be dischargeable under the bankruptcy code. If this is a consideration, you may want to seek legal advice.

10. Can I apply for an Offer in Compromise if I have no funds to offer?
No. We will not accept a zero dollar offer. Your offer must represent the most the Franchise Tax Board can expect to collect over a reasonable period of time.

11. What is a collateral agreement?
A collateral agreement is a contractual agreement between you and the Franchise Tax Board. By signing the agreement, you agree to pledge to us a percentage of income that exceeds an agreed upon threshold. Generally, the collateral agreement period is five years.

12. If my offer is approved, will I have to sign a collateral agreement?
If you are on a fixed income or have limited potential for increased earnings, a collateral agreement will generally not be required.

13. I am single now. If I marry while the collateral agreement is in effect, how will this affect me?
If you marry or enter into a Registered Domestic Partnership (RDP) while the collateral agreement is in effect, we will review any joint tax returns you are required to file. Generally, we consider your joint annual income in the collateral agreement. If you are married or a RDP filing separately, the evaluation will be based on your separate income.

14. Can I complete one application if I owe the Employment Development Department, the Board of Equalization, or the Franchise Tax Board?
To relieve some of the paperwork burden for taxpayers or their representatives, the State’s three taxing agencies developed a single offer in compromise application. Individual taxpayers can use DE 999CA (OIC Multi-Agency Application) to apply with any or all of the three agencies.

For tax help on obtaining your offer in compromise, contact a tax attorney who has the experience you can rely on – call Mitchell A. Port at 310.559.5259.

Using a common estate planning device in California, Anna Smith created a pourover will which provided that all her property not already in her living trust would be transferred to her living trust to be distributed under the terms of her trust. Anna died in 1991 and the trust provided that after all expenses and taxes of the trust were paid, a residual distribution to certain named beneficiaries would occur. A significant asset of the estate was shares of stock in a corporation. Anna’s fiduciaries elected to defer a portion of her estate taxes under Internal Revenue Code §6166.

In 1992, the trustees of the trust distributed assets of the trust to the beneficiaries. Because of the deferral under §6166, the estate taxes were not yet paid in full and the beneficiaries agreed to be responsible for the unpaid estate taxes.

In 2002, the corporation went bankrupt. The beneficiaries received nothing on their shares beyond some minimal amounts received. The next year, after having paid only $5 million of the $6.871 million in taxes due, the estate defaulted on its unpaid estate taxes . The IRS then sought to collect the unpaid taxes from the personal representatives of Anna’s estate (who were also trustees of the Trust), and from the beneficiaries.

There is a lesson here for fiduciaries undertaking a Code §6166 election to defer payment of taxes. The lesson is that with the extension, the estate or trust with the subject assets should retain those assets until after full and eventual payment of the tax liability. Distributing early, unless there are other assets in the estate or trust to fully cover the tax liability, will expose the fiduciaries to personal liability such as that imposed in the Johnson case.

Perhaps if the fiduciaries can adequately secure the beneficiary obligations under the contribution agreement with a pledge and/or mortgage of assets that are unlikely to lose material value, the risk can be minimized.

For tax planning to avoid this type of problem and others like it, call tax lawyer Mitchell A. Port at (310) 559-5259.