Wandry v. Commissioner: Defined Formula Transfers Provide Significant Planning Opportunity in 2012

 By Ashley Alderman

As we continue to emphasize, 2012 is the year to make transfers to family members.  The current gift tax exclusion amount is $5.12 million, which will be reduced to only $1 million as of January 1, 2013, unless Congress acts.  Therefore, most wealthy clients should use their $5.12  million exclusion amount to the greatest extent possible by the end of the year.

Many clients, however, may not have the liquidity to make transfers of $5.12 million in cash.   Instead, these clients may have family-held business interests or other business interests that could be transferred to younger generations.  The inherent problem with the transfer of business interests is the valuation of those interests.  If the IRS audits the gift tax return and adjusts the valuation of the business interests, the client may have created an unintended gift tax liability.  For example, suppose that the client transfers 500 membership units in the family LLC worth $5.12 million therefore fully utilizing the exclusion amount.  Following the IRS audit, however, the value of each membership unit is increased.  Now, the client has transferred 500 units worth $6 million and caused an unintended gift tax liability because the gift now exceeds the client’s available exclusion amount.

Fortunately, on March 26, 2012, the Tax Court issued an opinion in the case Wandry v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2012-88 that may provide significant assistance to taxpayers interested in these types of transfers.  In Wandry, the taxpayers made gifts of “a sufficient number of [membership units of the LLC] so that the fair market value of such Units for federal gift tax purposes” was a stated amount to their children and grandchildren.  In the assignment documents, the taxpayers acknowledged that the gift could be “subject to challenge by the Internal Revenue Service,” and that if a final determination was made by the IRS or a court of law that was different from the taxpayer’s appraisal, “the number of gifted Units shall be adjusted accordingly so that the value of the number of Units gifted to each person” equaled the stated amounts.   By making this defined value formula gift, the taxpayers intended to limit the value of the property transferred, thus eliminating the possibility of incurring unintended gift tax liability.   The Tax Court rejected several objections by the IRS to this type of formula gift and upheld the transfer.

Prior cases have upheld similar formula clauses when the excess value (if determined by audit or court) was transferred to a charity.  In those cases, no additional gift tax was incurred because the excess value received a charitable deduction.

Wandry, however, is the first case to address this formula transfer when a charity was not available as a back-stop.   Therefore, Wandry provides a significant planning opportunity for clients who have not fully utilized their $5.12 million exclusion amount.   Now, pursuant to Wandry,  using the example above, a client could make a gift of the number of units in the family LLC worth $5.12 million.  At the time of the gift, pursuant to an independent appraisal, the client may anticipate that this gift will equal 500 units, but if the IRS audits the return and a final determination results in the increase in the value of each unit, it might actually be that only 425 Units are transferred by the client, pursuant to the gift worth $5.12 million.   Rather than transferring a set number of membership units and adjusting the value later, Wandry allows the client to transfer a set value and adjust the number of units transferred later.

Because of the nuances in the Wandry case, a client should seek professional assistance before making these types of transfers to ensure that the transfer complies with the Tax Court’s opinion in Wandry.  If done correctly, however, the client will now be able to fully utilize his $5.12 million exclusion amount in 2012 without incurring any gift tax liability.

Explore posts in the same categories: Business Planning, Estate Planning, Estate Tax, Gift Taxes, Tax, Wealth Planning

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