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.