Tax Court in Brief | Estate of Hoenshied v. Commissioner | Anticipatory Assignment of Income, Charitable Contribution Deduction, and Qualified Appraisals

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Tax Litigation:  The Week of April 3rd, 2022, through April 7th, 2023

Estate of Hoenshied v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2023-34 | March 15, 2023 | Nega, J. | Dkt. No. 18606-19

Summary: In this 49-page opinion the Tax Court addresses a deficiency arising from the charitable contribution of appreciated shares of stock in a closely held corporation to a charitable organization that administers donor-advised funds for tax-exempt purposes under section 501(c)(3). The contribution in issue was made near contemporaneously with the selling of those shares to a third party. The timeline (truncated heavily for this blog) is as follows:

On June 11, 2015, the shareholders of the corporation in issue unanimously ratified the sale of all outstanding stock of the corporation. Immediately following the shareholder meeting, the corporation’s board of directors unanimously approved Petitioner’s request to be able to transfer a portion of his shares to Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, a tax-exempt charitable organization under section 501(c)(3). Thereafter, the corporation and the purchaser of shares continued drafting and revising the Contribution and Stock Purchase Agreement.

On July 13, 2015, Fidelity Charitable first received a stock certificate from Petitioner.

On July 14, 2015, the Contribution and Stock Purchase Agreement was revised to specify that Petitioner contributed shares to Fidelity Charitable on July 10, 2015, and on July 15, 2015, the Contribution and Stock Purchase Agreement was signed and the transaction was funded.

Fidelity Charitable, having provided an Irrevocable Stock Power as part of the transaction, received $2,941,966 in cash proceeds from the sale, which was deposited in Petitioner’s donor-advised fund giving account.

On November 18, 2015, Fidelity Charitable sent Petitioner a contribution confirmation letter acknowledging a charitable contribution of the corporate shares and indicating that Fidelity Charitable received the shares on June 11, 2015.

In its 2015 tax return, Petitioner did not report any capital gains on the shares contributed to Fidelity Charitable but claimed a noncash charitable contribution deduction of $3,282,511. In support of the claimed deduction, a Form 8283 was attached to the return.

Petitioner’s 2015 tax return was selected for examination. The IRS issued to Petitioners a notice of deficiency, determining a deficiency of $647,489, resulting from the disallowance of the claimed charitable contribution deduction, and a penalty of $129,498 under section 6662(a).

Key Issues:

  1. Whether and when Petitioners made a valid contribution of the shares of stock?
  2. Whether Petitioners had unreported capital gain income due to their right to proceeds from the sale of those shares becoming fixed before the gift?
  3. Whether Petitioners are entitled to a charitable contribution deduction?
  4. Whether Petitioners are liable for an accuracy-related penalty under section 6662(a) with respect to an underpayment of tax?

Primary Holdings:

(1) Petitioners failed to establish that any of the elements of a valid gift was present on June 11, 2015. No evidence was presented to credibly identify a specific action taken on June 11 that placed the shares within Fidelity Charitable’s dominion and control. Instead, the valid gift of shares was made by effecting delivery of a PDF of the certificate to Fidelity Charitable on July 13.

(2) Yes. None of the unresolved contingencies remaining on July 13, 2015 were substantial enough to have posed even a small risk of the overall transaction’s failing to close. Thus, Petitioners, through the doctrine of anticipatory assignment of income, had capital gains on the sale of the 1,380 appreciated shares of stock, even though Fidelity Charitable received the proceeds from that sale.

(3) No, Petitioners failed to show that the charitable contribution met the qualified appraisal requirements of section 170. The appraiser was not shown to be qualified, per regulations, at trial or in the appraisal itself, and the appraisal did not substantially comply with the regulatory requirements. “The failure to include a description of such experience in the appraisal was a substantive defect. . . . Petitioners’ failure to satisfy multiple substantive requirements of the regulations, paired with the appraisal’s other more minor defects, precludes them from establishing substantial compliance.” In addition, Petitioners failed to establish reasonable cause for failing to comply with the appraisal requirements “because petitioner knew or should have known that the date of contribution (and thus the date of valuation) was incorrect.” Thus, the IRS’s determination to disallow the charitable contribution deduction is sustained.

(4) No. While Petitioners did not have reasonable cause for their failure to comply with the qualified appraisal requirement, their liability for an accuracy-related penalty was a separate analysis, and the IRS did not carry the burden of proof. Petitioners did not follow their professional’s advice to have the paperwork for the contribution ready to go “well before the signing of the definitive purchase agreement.” But, Petitioners adhered to the literal thrust of the advice given: that “execution of the definitive purchase agreement” was the firm deadline to contribute the shares and avoid capital gains (even if that proved to be incorrect advice under the circumstances).

Key Points of Law:

Gross Income. Gross income means “all income from whatever source derived,” including “[g]ains derived from dealings in property.” 26 U.S.C. § 61(a)(3). In general, a taxpayer must realize and recognize gains on a sale or other disposition of appreciated property. See id. at § 1001(a)–(c). However, a taxpayer typically does not recognize gain when disposing of appreciated property via gift or charitable contribution. See Taft v. Bowers, 278 U.S. 470, 482 (1929); see also 26 U.S.C. § 1015(a) (providing for carryover basis of gifts). A taxpayer may also generally deduct the fair market value of property contributed to a qualified charitable organization. See 26 U.S.C. § 170(a)(1); Treas. Reg. 16 § 1.170A-1(c)(1). Contributions of appreciated property are thus tax advantaged compared to cash contributions; when a contribution of property is structured properly, a taxpayer can both avoid paying tax on the unrealized appreciation in the property and deduct the property’s fair market value. See, e.g., Dickinson v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2020-128, at *5.

Donor-Advised Fund. The use of a donor-advised fund further optimizes a contribution by allowing a donor “to get an immediate tax deduction but defer the actual donation of the funds to individual charities until later.” Fairbairn v. Fid. Invs. Charitable Gift Fund, No. 18-cv-04881, 2021 WL 754534, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 26, 2021).

Two-Part Test to Determine Charitable Contribution of Appreciated Property Followed by Sale by Donee. The donor must (1) give the appreciated property away absolutely and divest of title (2) “before the property gives rise to income by way of a sale.” Humacid Co. v. Commissioner, 42 T.C. 894, 913 (1964).

Valid Gift of Shares of Stock. “Ordinarily, a contribution is made at the time delivery is effected.” Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-1(b). “If a taxpayer unconditionally delivers or mails a properly endorsed stock certificate to a charitable donee or the donee’s agent, the gift is completed on the date of delivery.” Id. However, the regulations do not define what constitutes delivery, and the Tax Court evaluates applicable state law for the threshold determination of whether donors have divested themselves of their property rights via gift. See, e.g., United States v. Nat’l Bank of Com., 472 U.S. 713, 722 (1985). In determining the validity of a gift, Michigan law, for example (and as applied in Estate of Hoensheid), requires a showing of (1) donor intent to make a gift; (2) actual or constructive delivery of the subject matter of the gift; and (3) donee acceptance. See Davidson v. Bugbee, 575 N.W.2d 574, 576 (Mich. Ct. App. 1997).

Present Intent. The determination of a party’s subjective intent is necessarily a highly fact-bound issue. When deciding such an issue, the Tax Court must determine “whether a witness’s testimony is credible based on objective facts, the reasonableness of the testimony, the consistency of statements made by the witness, and the demeanor of the witness.” Ebert v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-5, at *5–6. If contradicted by the objective facts in the record, the Tax Court will not “accept the self-serving testimony of [the taxpayer] . . . as gospel.” Tokarski v. Commissioner, 87 T.C. 74, 77 (1986).

Delivery. Under Michigan law, the delivery requirement generally contemplates an “open and visible change of possession” of the donated property. Shepard v. Shepard, 129 N.W. 201, 208 (Mich. 1910). Manually providing tangible property to the donee is the classic form of delivery. Manually providing to the donee a stock certificate that represents intangible shares of stock is traditionally sufficient delivery. The determination of what constitutes delivery is context-specific and depends upon the “nature of the subject-matter of the gift” and the “situation and circumstances of the parties.” Shepard, 129 N.W. at 208. Constructive delivery may be effected where property is delivered into the possession of another on behalf of the donee. See, e.g., In re Van Wormer’s Estate, 238 N.W. 210, 212 (Mich. 1931). Whether constructive or actual, delivery “must be unconditional and must place the property within the dominion and control of the donee” and “beyond the power of recall by the donor.” In re Casey Estate, 856 N.W.2d 556, 563 (Mich. Ct. App. 2014). If constructive or actual delivery of the gift property occurs, its later retention by the donor is not sufficient to defeat the gift. See Estate of Morris v. Morris, No. 336304, 2018 WL 2024582, at *5 (Mich. Ct. App. May 1, 2018).

Delivery of Shares. Retention of stock certificates by donor’s attorney may preclude a valid gift. Also, a determination of no valid gift may occur where the taxpayer instructs a custodian of corporate books to prepare stock certificates but remained undecided about ultimate gift. In some jurisdictions, transfer of shares on the books of the corporation can, in certain circumstances, constitute delivery of an inter vivos gift of shares. See, e.g., Wilmington Tr. Co. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 51 A.2d 584, 594 (Del. Ch. 1947); Chi. Title & Tr. Co. v. Ward, 163 N.E. 319, 322 (Ill. 1928); Brewster v. Brewster, 114 A.2d 53, 57 (Md. 1955). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has stated that transfer on the books of a corporation constitutes delivery of shares of stock, apparently as a matter of federal common law. See Lawton v. Commissioner, 164 F.2d 380, 384 (6th Cir. 1947), rev’g 6 T.C. 1093 (1946); Bardach v. Commissioner, 90 F.2d 323, 326 (6th Cir. 1937), rev’g 32 B.T.A. 517 (1935); Marshall v. Commissioner, 57 F.2d 633, 634 (6th Cir. 1932), aff’g in part, rev’g in part 19 B.T.A. 1260 (1930). The transfers on the books of the corporation were bolstered by other objective actions that evidenced a change in possession and thus a gift. See Jolly’s Motor Livery Co. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1957-231, 16 T.C.M. (CCH) 1048, 1073.

Acceptance. Donee acceptance of a gift is generally “presumed if the gift is beneficial to the donee.” Davidson, 575 N.W.2d at 576.

Anticipatory Assignment of Income. The anticipatory assignment of income doctrine is a longstanding “first principle of income taxation.” Commissioner v. Banks, 543 U.S. 426, 434 (2005). The doctrine recognizes that income is taxed “to those who earn or otherwise create the right to receive it,” Helvering v. Horst, 311 U.S. 112, 119 (1940), and that tax cannot be avoided “by anticipatory arrangements and contracts however skillfully devised,” Lucas v. Earl, 281 U.S. 111, 115 (1930). A person with a fixed right to receive income from property thus cannot avoid taxation by arranging for another to gratuitously take title before the income is received. See Helvering, 311 U.S. at 115–17; Ferguson, 108 T.C. at 259. This principle is applicable, for instance, where a taxpayer gratuitously assigns wage income that the taxpayer has earned but not yet received, or gratuitously transfers a debt instrument carrying accrued but unpaid interest. A donor will be deemed to have effectively realized income and then assigned that income to another when the donor has an already fixed or vested right to the unpaid income. See Cold Metal Process Co. v. Commissioner, 247 F.2d 864, 872–73 (6th Cir. 1957), rev’g 25 T.C. 1333 (1956). The same principle is often applicable where a taxpayer gratuitously transfers shares of stock that are subject to a pending, prenegotiated transaction and thus carry a fixed right to proceeds of the transaction. See Rollins v. United States, 302 F. Supp. 812, 817–18 (W.D. Tex. 1969).

Determining Anticipatory Assignment of Income. In determining whether an anticipatory assignment of income has occurred with respect to a gift of shares of stock, the Tax Court looks to the realities and substance of the underlying transaction, rather than to formalities or hypothetical possibilities. See Jones v. United States, 531 F.2d 1343, 1345 (6th Cir. 1976) (en banc); Allen v. Commissioner, 66 T.C. 340, 346 (1976). In general, a donor’s right to income from shares of stock is fixed if a transaction involving those shares has become “practically certain to occur” by the time of the gift, “despite the remote and hypothetical possibility of abandonment.” Jones, 531 F.2d at 1346. The mere anticipation or expectation of income at the time of the gift does not establish that a donor’s right to income is fixed. The Tax Court looks to several other factors that bear upon whether the sale of shares was virtually certain to occur at the time of a purported gift as part of the same transaction. Relevant factors may include (1) any legal obligation to sell by the donee, (2) the actions already taken by the parties to effect the transaction, (3) the remaining unresolved transactional contingencies, and (4) the status of the corporate formalities required to finalize the transaction.

Corporate Formalities. Also relevant is the status of the corporate formalities necessary for effecting the transaction. See Estate of Applestein, 80 T.C. at 345–46 (finding that taxpayer’s right to sale proceeds from shares had “virtually ripened” upon shareholders’ approval of proposed merger agreement). Under Michigan law, a proposed plan to exchange shares must generally be approved by a majority of the corporation’s shareholders. Formal shareholder approval of a transaction has often proven to be sufficient to demonstrate that a right to income from shares was fixed before a subsequent transfer. However, such approval is not necessary for a right to income to be fixed, when other actions taken establish that a transaction was virtually certain to occur. See Ferguson, 104 T.C. at 262–63.

Charitable Contribution Deduction. Section 170(a)(1) allows as a deduction any charitable contribution (as defined) payment of which is made within the taxable year. “A charitable contribution is a gift of property to a charitable organization made with charitable intent and without the receipt or expectation of receipt of adequate consideration.” Palmolive Bldg. Invs., LLC v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. 380, 389 (2017). Section 170(f)(8)(A) provides that “[n]o deduction shall be allowed . . . for any contribution of $250 or more unless the taxpayer substantiates the contribution by a contemporaneous written acknowledgement of the contribution by the donee organization that meets the requirements of subparagraph (B).” For contributions of property in excess of $500,000, the taxpayer must also attach to the return a “qualified appraisal” prepared in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards. 26 U.S.C. § 170(f)(11)(D) and (E).

Contemporaneous Written Acknowledgement (“CWA”). A CWA must include, among other things, the amount of cash and a description of any property contributed. 26 U.S.C. § 170(f)(8)(B). A CWA is contemporaneous if obtained by the taxpayer before the earlier of either (1) the date the relevant tax return was filed or (2) the due date of the relevant tax return. Id. at § 170(f)(8)(C). For donor-advised funds, the CWA must include a statement that the donee “has exclusive legal control over the assets contributed.” 26 U.S.C. § 170(f)(18)(B). These requirements are construed strictly and do not apply the doctrine of substantial compliance to excuse defects in a CWA.

Qualified Appraisal for Certain Charitable Contributions. Section 170(f)(11)(A)(i) provides that “no deduction shall be allowed . . . for any contribution of property for which a deduction of more than $500 is claimed unless such person meets the requirements of subparagraphs (B), (C), and (D), as the case may be.” Subparagraph (D) requires that, for contributions for which a deduction in excess of $500,000 is claimed, the taxpayer attach a qualified appraisal to the return. Section 170(f)(11)(E)(i) provides that a qualified appraisal means, with respect to any property, an appraisal of such property which—(I) is treated for purposes of this paragraph as a qualified appraisal under regulations or other guidance prescribed by the Secretary, and (II) is conducted by a qualified appraiser in accordance with generally accepted appraisal standards and any regulations or other guidance prescribed under subclause (I). The regulations provide that a qualified appraisal is an appraisal document that, inter alia, (1) “[r]elates to an appraisal that is made” no earlier than 60 days before the date of contribution and (2) is “prepared, signed, and dated by a qualified appraiser.” Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(3)(i).

Qualified Appraisal Must Include: Treasury Regulation § 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii) requires that a qualified appraisal itself include, inter alia:

(1) “[a] description of the property in sufficient detail for a person who is not generally familiar with the type of property to ascertain that the property that was appraised is the property that was (or will be) contributed;”

(2) “[t]he date (or expected date) of contribution to the donee;”

(3) “[t]he name, address, and . . . identifying number of the qualified appraiser;”

(4) “[t]he qualifications of the qualified appraiser;”

(5) “a statement that the appraisal was prepared for income tax purposes;”

(6) “[t]he date (or dates) on which the property was appraised;”

(7) “[t]he appraised fair market value . . . of the property on the date (or expected date) of contribution;” and

(8) the method of and specific basis for the valuation.

Qualified Appraiser. Section 170(f)(11)(E)(ii) provides that a “qualified appraiser” is an individual who (I) has earned an appraisal designation from a recognized professional appraiser organization or has otherwise met minimum education and experience requirements set forth in regulations, (II) regularly performs appraisals for which the individual receives compensation, and (III) meets such other requirements as may be prescribed . . . in regulations or other guidance. An appraiser must also demonstrate “verifiable education and experience in valuing the type of property subject to the appraisal.” The regulations add that the appraiser must include in the appraisal summary a declaration that he or she (1) “either holds himself or herself out to the public as an appraiser or performs appraisals on a regular basis;” (2) is “qualified to make appraisals of the type of property being valued;” (3) is not an excluded person specified in paragraph (c)(5)(iv) of the regulation; and (4) understands the consequences of a “false or fraudulent overstatement” of the property’s value. Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(5)(i). The regulations prohibit a fee arrangement for a qualified appraisal “based, in effect, on a percentage . . . of the appraised value of the property.” Id. at subpara. (6)(i).

Substantial Compliance with Qualified Appraisal Requirements. The qualified appraisal requirements are directory, rather than mandatory, as the requirements “do not relate to the substance or essence of whether or not a charitable contribution was actually made.” See Bond v. Commissioner, 100 T.C. 32, 41 (1993). Thus, the doctrine of substantial compliance may excuse a failure to strictly comply with the qualified appraisal requirements. If the appraisal discloses sufficient information for the IRS to evaluate the reliability and accuracy of a valuation, the Tax Court may deem the requirements satisfied. Bond, 100 T.C. at 41–42. Substantial compliance allows for minor or technical defects but does not excuse taxpayers from the requirement to disclose information that goes to the “essential requirements of the governing statute.” Estate of Evenchik v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2013-34, at *12. The Tax Court generally declines to apply substantial compliance where a taxpayer’s appraisal either (1) fails to meet substantive requirements in the regulations or (2) omits entire categories of required information.

Reasonable Cause to Avoid Denial of Charitable Contribution Deduction. Taxpayers who fail to comply with the qualified appraisal requirements may still be entitled to charitable contribution deductions if they show that their noncompliance is “due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect.” 26 U.S.C. § 170(f)(11)(A)(ii)(II). This defense is construed similarly to the defense applicable to numerous other Code provisions that prescribe penalties and additions to tax. See id. at § 6664(c)(1). To show reasonable cause due to reliance on a professional adviser, the Tax Court generally requires that a taxpayer show (1) that their adviser was a competent professional with sufficient expertise to justify reliance; (2) that the taxpayer provided the adviser necessary and accurate information; and (3) that the taxpayer actually relied in good faith on the adviser’s judgment. See Neonatology Assocs., P.A. v. Commissioner, 115 T.C. 43, 99 (2000), aff’d, 299 F.3d 221 (3d Cir. 2002).  “Unconditional reliance on a tax return preparer or C.P.A. does not by itself constitute reasonable reliance in good faith; taxpayers must also exercise ‘[d]iligence and prudence’.” See Stough v. Commissioner, 144 T.C. 306, 323 (2015) (quoting Estate of Stiel v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2009-278, 2009 WL 4877742, at *2)).

Section 6662(a) Penalty. Section 6662(a) and (b)(1) and (2) imposes a 20% penalty on any underpayment of tax required to be show on a return that is attributable to negligence, disregard of rules or regulations, or a substantial understatement of income tax. Negligence includes “any failure to make a reasonable attempt to comply” with the Code, 26 U.S.C. § 6662(c), or a failure “to keep adequate books and records or to substantiate items properly,” Treas. Reg. § 1.6662-3(b)(1). An understatement of income tax is “substantial” if it exceeds the greater of 10% of the tax required to be shown on the return or $5,000. 26 U.S.C. § 6662(d)(1)(A). Generally, the IRS bears the initial burden of production of establishing via sufficient evidence that a taxpayer is liable for penalties and additions to tax; once this burden is met, the taxpayer must carry the burden of proof with regard to defenses such as reasonable cause. Id. at § 7491(c); see Higbee v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. 438, 446–47 (2001). The IRS bears the burden of proof with respect to a new penalty or increase in the amount of a penalty asserted in his answer. See Rader v. Commissioner, 143 T.C. 376, 389 (2014); Rule 142(a), aff’d in part, appeal dismissed in part, 616 F. App’x 391 (10th Cir. 2015); see also RERI Holdings I, LLC v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. 1, 38–39 (2017), aff’d sub nom. Blau v. Commissioner, 924 F.3d 1261 (D.C. Cir. 2019). As part of the burden of production, the IRS must satisfy section 6751(b) by producing evidence of written approval of the penalty by an immediate supervisor, made before formal communication of the penalty to the taxpayer.

Reasonable Cause Defense to Section 6662(a) Penalty. A section 6662 penalty will not be imposed for any portion of an underpayment if the taxpayers show that (1) they had reasonable cause and (2) acted in good faith with respect to that underpayment. 26 U.S.C. § 6664(c)(1). A taxpayer’s mere reliance “on an information return or on the advice of a professional tax adviser or an appraiser does not necessarily demonstrate reasonable cause and good faith.” Treas. Reg. § 1.6664-4(b)(1). That reliance must be reasonable, and the taxpayer must act in good faith. In evaluating whether reliance is reasonable, a taxpayer’s “education, sophistication and business experience will be relevant.” Id. para. (c)(1).

Insights: Going forward, this opinion of Estate of Hoenshied v. Commissioner will likely be a go-to source for any practitioner involved in a taxpayer’s proposed transfer of corporate shares (or other property) to a donor-advised fund or other charitable organization as part of a buy-sell transaction that is anywhere close in time to the proposed donation.


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