Estate Planning Estate Tax Gift Tax Income Tax Litigation

A Promise Is a Promise: The Enforceability of Charitable Pledges under New York Law

Haley B. Bybee —

Charitable contributions are often utilized in estate planning to assist a client not only in supporting his or her favorite charities but also to reduce tax liabilities both during life and at death. However, before clients agree to make any charitable contributions, they should understand that the agreements between themselves and charitable organizations, such as pledge agreements, can be binding.

Historically, New York courts have favored enforcing charitable pledges as a matter of public policy and in doing so, courts have relied on three common law contract law theories: (1) unilateral contract, (2) bilateral contract, and (3) promissory estoppel.[1]

Courts have most frequently relied on the theory of unilateral contract to enforce charitable pledges.[2] Under that theory, a charitable pledge or promise to make a future gift constitutes a unilateral offer, and “when accepted by the donee charity by the incurring of liability or detriment . . . [the offer] ripens into a binding contractual obligation of the donor and [is] enforceable against him.”[3] There have been numerous cases in which a donor’s promise to make a charitable contribution has been enforced on this ground.

Estate Planning Estate Tax Exemption Capture Planning Gift Tax

IRC Section 2701 and Gifts of Carried Interests

James R. O’Neill —

James O'Neill's headshot photo

The transfer in the course of estate planning of a fund manager’s carried interest early in the life of a fund (when the carried interest has a modest value) can be an attractive way in which to remove anticipated future appreciation from the manager’s estate at a nominal gift tax cost. However, any transfer of a carried interest could be subject to the special valuation rules of Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Section 2701 and result in an unexpected deemed gift and substantial gift tax liability. If the entire carried interest is transferred, the capital interest in the fund retained by the manager may be valued at zero for gift tax purposes under Section 2701, and the manager may be deemed to have made a gift of his entire interest in the fund, including his capital interest, rather than just the carried interest.

One way to achieve the desired estate planning result and avoid the applicability of Section 2701 is the sale of a derivative, based on the performance of the manager’s carried interest, rather than a transfer of the carried interest itself. Typically, the sale would be made to an intentionally defective grantor trust (also simply known as a “grantor trust”) for the benefit of family members. The use of a derivative contract to transfer the value of the carried interest does not require the actual transfer of the carried interest itself, thereby avoiding the applicability of Section 2701. Under this approach, the manager enters into a derivative contract with the trust agreeing to pay the trust at a future settlement date, usually set near the end of the fund’s life, the fair market value of the carried interest on the settlement date. For more aggressive planning, the payment may be set in the derivative contract as a multiple of the value of the carried interest on the settlement date. The derivative contract also can be structured so that the payment is required only after the carried interest has exceeded a certain total return, using a hurdle amount. For its part, the trust pays to the manager upon execution of the derivative contract the present value of the trust’s right to receive the future payment on the settlement date. That present value is determined by an appraisal of the trust’s future right (at current fair market value) upon execution of the derivative contract, which is generally significantly less than what the trust will actually receive upon the settlement date.

For example, if the present value of the trust’s right to receive the future payment based on the carried interest is appraised currently at $500,000, the trust pays the manager that amount upon execution of the derivative contract. If the value of that carried interest is five million dollars at the future settlement date, the manager pays to the trust that five million dollars on the settlement date at conclusion of the term of the derivative contract. A gift tax return is filed to report the sale to the trust (and a zero-dollar gift) of the appraised value of the derivative based on the carried interest to start the running of the statute of limitations for the Internal Revenue Service to audit the gift tax return. Given that the derivative was sold to the trust and there is no reportable gift value, there are no gift tax consequences associated with the sale.

Estate Planning Estate Tax Exemption Capture Planning Gift Tax Income Tax

Irrevocable Trusts: Who Is the Taxpayer?

Kyle G. Durante

In establishing and funding an irrevocable trust, a common question is who is responsible for the income tax liabilities associated with the trust? Many individuals assume that the trust is a separate and independent taxpayer, requiring the trustees to file income tax returns for the trust. However, that is not always the case.

Irrevocable trusts are either classified as “grantor trusts” or “non-grantor trusts.” When an irrevocable trust is classified as a grantor trust, the trust is treated as identical to the settlor or the donor, requiring the settlor to report all matters of income and deduction with respect to the trust on his or her own individual income tax returns. When an irrevocable trust is classified as a non-grantor trust, the trust is deemed to be a separate taxpayer, requiring the trustees to file annual income tax returns for the trust (known as fiduciary income tax returns) reporting all matters of income and deduction with respect to the trust.

Generally, whether an irrevocable trust will be classified as a grantor or non-grantor trust depends on certain powers that may have been retained by the settlor with respect to the trust, who are the beneficiaries of the trust, and certain provisions in the trust. For instance, if the settlor retained the power of substitution (also known as a swap power), if the trustees have the power to use trust income to pay premiums on a life insurance policy insuring the life of the settlor or if the settlor’s spouse is a permissible beneficiary of the income of the trust, the irrevocable trust will be deemed to be a grantor trust. As a general rule, although not always the case, an irrevocable life insurance trust (holding a life insurance policy insuring the life of the settlor) or a spousal lifetime access trust (“SLAT”) will almost always be deemed a grantor trust during the settlor’s lifetime.

At first blush, a grantor trust may be seen as a harmful result given that the settlor is transferring property to an irrevocable trust (of which the settlor is generally not a beneficiary and no longer has access to the property) but the settlor remains liable for the income tax bill. However, establishing an irrevocable trust as a grantor trust can have significant transfer tax benefits. By establishing a grantor trust, each year the settlor will report and pay any associated income tax liabilities with respect to the trust. Under current law, the payment of tax liabilities that would otherwise be paid by the trust is, in essence, a tax-free gift to the trust each year. As such, the payment of the trust’s tax liabilities by the settlor will permit the settlor to further deplete the assets in his or her own name (that will be subject to estate tax at his or her death) without using any of the settlor’s gift/estate tax exemption.

With respect to grantor trusts, of course, once the settlor dies, the trust will generally cease to be a grantor trust and convert to a non-grantor trust. It may also, however, be possible to convert the trust from a grantor trust to a non-grantor trust, and vice versa, during the settlor’s lifetime, if that would be desirable.

Irrevocable trusts are further subclassified under the Internal Revenue Code as either foreign or domestic trusts. As a general rule, domestic trusts are subject to U.S. income tax on their world-wide income, while foreign trusts are subject to U.S. income tax on only their U.S.-sourced income. The implications of each such classification and the tests to determine such classifications will be addressed in an upcoming cross-border estate planning series.