Tax Roundup, 1/20/16: Divorce transfer foot fault wrecks Iowa ESOP. And: efficiency!

January 20th, 2016 by Joe Kristan

tax fairyMarriage explodes, ESOP explodes. S corporations and ESOPs are a tempting mix. To the extent an ESOP holds the shares of an S corporation, it becomes a tax-exempt for-profit business. This is almost like finding a real-life tax fairy. If any other tax-exempt entity holds S corporation stock, it will pay Unrelated Business Income Tax — a form of the regular corporate income tax — on its S corporation earnings.

These features draw tax-fairy seekers to the S corporation ESOP. For a Muscatine, Iowa chiropractor, the quest ended in both tax and romantic failure. The failure reminds us that ESOPs are not to be adopted lightly. It also shows that ESOP failures, unlike some marriages, last forever.

The chiropractor involved incorporated his practice in 1999, made an S corporation election, and immediately established an ESOP. He and his wife were the only shareholders and only ESOP participants.

The marriage broke up in 2007. In 2009, the ex-wife left the company and agreed to give up her ESOP account, then valued at $286,904.53. But they did it wrong. The Tax Court explains (citations omitted):

In addition, once a participant’s benefit becomes vested, it is nonforfeitable under ERISA. In sum, a participant in a section 401(a) plan may not assign or alienate his or her benefit, and at the same time, he or she has a nonforfeitable right to that same benefit.

Pursuant to the May 27, 2009, corporate documents, and relying upon the divorce decree, [Wife] transferred 100% of her ESOP shares and relinquished any rights she had under the ESOP. The ESOP’s June 30, 2009 and 2010, reports [*15] reflect that 100% of the shares allocated to [Wife] on June 30, 2009, were reallocated to {Husband’s] account as of June 30, 2010.

Before April 5, 2007, [Husband] and [Wife]… were also [the corporation’s] sole employees and ESOP participants. Although the 2007 divorce decree dissolved the… marriage, it is insufficient to allow the transfer of plan assets that transpired in this case. Transferring the vested shares from [Wife]’s account to [Husband’s] caused [Wife]’s ESOP account to become alienated from her after it became fully vested. By violating section 401(a)(13), the plan ceased to be qualified. Accordingly, we hold that respondent did not abuse his discretion in disqualifying the ESOP for its 2010 plan year and for subsequent plan years.

Public domain image courtesy Wikipedia

Public domain image of Phoenix courtesy Wikipedia

You might wonder why one mistake in one year wrecked everything. Judge Dawson explains:

In general, a qualification failure pursuant to section 401(a) is a continuing failure because allowing a plan to requalify in subsequent years would be to allow a plan “to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of such disqualification and become qualified for that year.”

That’s the frightening thing about going ESOP. You have to comply with extremely detailed and complex qualification rules every year, every time. This requires significant legal and consulting bills, and even then mistakes can be made. While ESOPs can be useful in the right situations, you have to live with serious compliance costs and risks.

In this case, I’m only surprised that the ESOP lasted as long as it did. Section 409(p) imposes a both the UBIT and a 50% excise tax when “disqualified persons” receive an ESOP allocation. Related taxpayers who own more than 10% of the S corporation, or 20% with family members, are “disqualified persons.” In this case the couple owned 100% of the corporation. The case is silent on this issue, but I don’t understand how this structure could have worked even before the disqualification in light of the Section 409(p) rules. The case does say that they terminated their S corporation in 2005, which would have solved the 409(p) problem after that date.

This is the fourth ESOP disqualification the Tax Court has decided involving the individual named as trustee in this case, who I believe had an Iowa-based practice. This continues Iowa’s unhappy history of involvment in bad ESOPs.

Cite: Family Chiropractic Sports Injury & Rehab Clinic, T.C. Memo 2016-10.

 

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William Perez, Secure Ways to Send Tax Documents to Your Accountant. It is reckless and dangerous to send pdfs of your W-2s, 1099s, etc. as an unencryped e-mail attachment. William offers good advice on how to do it right.

Jason Dinesen, Glossary: Compilation. “In the accounting world, the term “compilation” refers to formal financial statements prepared by a public accountant.”

Robert Wood, IRS Forms 1099 Are Coming, The Most Important Tax Form Of All.

Robert D. Flach, 2015 INFORMATION RETURNS. Robert offers a handy chart of the various information returns, except for K-1s.

Russ Fox, Texas Attorney General: DFS Illegal in Texas. “Texas’s Attorney General, Ken Paxton, issued an opinion today that says that daily fantasy sports (DFS) is illegal under Texas law.”

 

 

Illustration for early draft Bernie Sanders tax plan.

Illustration for early draft Bernie Sanders tax plan.

Water is wet. Bernie Sanders Is Proposing Really Big Tax Increases (Howard Gleckman, TaxVox).

It is hard to grasp the enormity of the tax increases Bernie Sanders is proposing, how far out-of-step he is with recent economic history in the U.S., and what a stunning contrast he presents with Republican presidential hopefuls.

I love when “enormity” is used correctly unintentionally.

While Sanders describes his top rate as 52 percent, top-bracket taxpayers would be paying up to 58 percent rate (the 52 percent base rate, plus the 2.2 percent health premium, plus the Affordable Care Act’s 3.8 percent surtax on investment income, which Sanders would keep).

Be happy he doesn’t take more, kulaks!

Peter Reilly, Bernie Sanders Tax Plan Moderate On Top Income Tax Rate. Well, I suppose compared to beheading high bracket taxpayers, confiscating their estates, and selling their families into slavery, it is.

 

 

Career Corner. Accountant Worked One Day, Allegedly Embezzled $15k (Caleb Newquist, Going Concern). Efficiency!

 

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