Taxpayers often desire to make gifts of difficult to value property by using their available unified credit to cover the value of the gift and thus avoid current gift tax. The problem they face is that if the IRS is successful in proving a higher value for the property than the taxpayer, this could put the taxpayer over the unified credit amount and thus incur current gift taxes.
To address this problem, taxpayers use “formula clauses” to limit the amount of the gift to the desired amount. The IRS typically contests these clauses, claiming they are against public policy since they reduce or eliminate the IRS’ incentive to auditing.
One type of clause used is known as a “gift over” clause. In this type of clause, the taxpayer gifts away the property, but provides that to the extent that the value of the gift exceeds a certain dollar amount, the remaining value goes to another recipient (typically one or more charities). Thus, any unexpected increases in value on IRS examination act to increase the amount going to charity – no additional gift tax results due to the charitable gift tax deduction.
In a taxpayer victory, the Tax Court has upheld the application of such a clause after the IRS successfully argued for a higher value for gifts made by a taxpayer than the value reported on the gift tax return. Facts and factors that assisted the court in reaching its decision included:
A. The Court noted this clause was not in the nature of a prohibited Proctor “savings” clause that returns property to the grantor to the extent of any finally determined increases in value. Instead, under this type of clause, no matter what the final valuation of the gifted property the taxpayer gifted away the same property, with the only uncertainty being who receives it (based on values finally determined).
B. The Court feels less comfortable in relying on public policy arguments than it has in the past. The Court cited Commissioner v. Tellier, 383 U.S. 687, 694 [17 AFTR 2d 633] (1966), where the Supreme Court warned against invoking public-policy exceptions to the Code too freely. The Court also noted the contrary public policy of encouraging gifts to charities, which gifts are supported by these types of clauses.
C. The Court noted that there were a number of facts that demonstrated fiduciary and legal obligations of various parties to respect the rights of the charitable beneficiaries, and thus limits the ability of the taxpayers to exploit the presence of the charities for tax planning purposes via low-ball valuations. Indeed, the charities were active in this case in negotiating the transfers and enforcing their rights. The case also presents useful guidance in regard to structuring the charity’s gifts in a manner that enhances these types of factors (e.g., by making the charities a full member in the LLC in which they received gifts instead of just holders of restricted transferee interests).
D. The Court also acknowledged that the Code and Regulations allow the use of formulas in various circumstances, so that formula clauses should not be preemptively declared to be against public policy in all circumstances. This is an argument often made by taxpayers and it is helpful that this argument was acknowledged, at least in part, by the Tax Court.
An interesting side issue in the case was whether the charitable deduction for the gift should be allowed in the original year of gift, even though the amount of the charitable gift was effectively increased by the IRS’ later higher valuation in a later year. The Court found that the charitable deduction occurred in the year of the original gift.
Petter, et al. v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2009-280