Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation which amends New York law to allow mentally-competent disabled individuals under age 65 to establish a first-party Special Needs Trust without court petition.

In the past, when an individual with special needs had assets in his or her name which precluded his or her eligibility for government benefits, a special needs trust could only be created to achieve eligibility for benefits while preserving the assets for a disabled individual’s care by a parent, a grandparent or a legal guardian, or by the disabled individual by way of a lengthy and costly court proceeding.  Now, a disabled individual with mental capacity can establish his or her own special needs trust for assets in his or her own name without the involvement of these other individuals, or the courts, while preserving his or her eligibility for government benefits (for example, Medicaid and SSI).

New York Social Services Law 366(2)(b)(2)(iii) now conforms to the Federal Special Needs Trust Fairness Act signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 13, 2016, and applies to all first-party Special Needs Trusts established in New York on or after August 21, 2017.

On November 2, 2015, new partnership audit rules, repealing existing TEFRA rules, were enacted in Section 1101 of the Bipartisan Budget Act (“BBA”).  On August 15, 2016, Treasury published temporary regulations (TD 9780, 81 FR 51795).  The BBA will become effective on January 1, 2018, although partnerships can elect into the new rules retroactively to November 2, 2015.

The new rules have created quite the excitement among certain tax professionals because they shift both the audit and the collection of partnership taxes to the partnership.  Since 1982, partnership audits have been governed by the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (“TEFRA”).  Partnerships with 10 or fewer partners (with some exceptions, such as tiered partnerships) were exempt from TEFRA rules, and were governed by the default partner-level audit regime that existed prior to TEFRA.  What that means is, such small partnership audits were of the K-1’s of the partners who owned interest in the partnership in the years under audit, and correspondingly any adjustments were paid by those “review-year” partners.  For all other partnerships, TEFRA now required that the audit be conducted at the partnership level, which means adjustments were to be made to partnership income and deductions, with amended K-1’s then issued to the review-year partners.  The regime was now partnership-level audits with partner-level assessments.  In other words, those partners whose actions caused the additional tax were the ones responsible for paying it.

In addition, under TEFRA, over-100 partner partnerships could elect to have partnership-level assessments, that is, additional tax paid not by review-year partners but by current, “audit-year” partners (under the Electing Large Partnership Audit rules that were also repealed by the BBA).  This would result in a partnership-level audit and partnership-level assessment.

Unfortunately, over the years the IRS found partner-level collection difficult, and Congress has now responded by consolidating not only the audit but also the collection of tax at the partnership level.  In other words, the collection of tax is now made from audit-year partners, or partners having interest in the partnership in the year it is being audited.  This may be fine for small static family partnerships whose partners do not change, but it is not fine for large dynamic partnerships with ever-changing ownership interests.

A partnership representative (PR), rather than TEFRA’s Tax Matters Partner (TMP), now controls the conduct of the audit at the partnership level.  Neither the IRS nor the PR is statutorily obligated to give notice or audit rights to the other partners, a response to the IRS’ desire to streamline the audit without too many administrative hurdles.

An additional change in IRS’ favor is that there is no longer an automatic exemption from the consolidated audit for under-10 partnerships.  Now the burden is on the partnership to make an annual election out of the BBA rules under Section 6221 of the Internal Revenue Code.  The election can only be made by partnerships having fewer than 100 partners and those partners have to be individuals, C corporations, S corporations, tax-exempt entities or estates of partners.  When such an election out of the BBA is made and an audit arises that year, the partnership will essentially have a pre-TEFRA audit at the partner-level (as had been the case for under-10 partnerships under TEFRA).  The catch?  If the partnership has other partnerships or trusts as partners, it cannot elect out of the BBA consolidated rules no matter its size or preference.

If a partnership cannot elect out of the BBA rules because of its size or composition of its partners, it can still elect under Section 6226 to “push-out” payments of the additional tax assessed from the audit-year to the review-year partners.  The push-out election essentially replicates the TEFRA regime of partnership-level audit and partner-level payment.

Note that the rules are not clear on whether multi-tier partnerships can push-out payment to the ultimate partners.  The IRS has indicated the push-out will not automatically reach the ultimate partners unless the partnership can provide sufficient information about the tiers of income and loss allocations.

The new rules upend the status quo, affect countless existing partnership agreements, and create additional liability for purchasers of partnership interests.  At the same time, the new rules potentially create additional leverage for controlling partners.  All these considerations need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to amend existing agreements and draft robust new ones for the future under the new regime.

On June 9, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service issued Revenue Procedure 2017-34, which is effective immediately and provides a simplified method to obtain permission for an extension of time under Reg. 301.9100-3 to file Form 706 (Federal Estate Tax Return) and elect portability without the need to apply for a private letter ruling and pay the associated user fee.

Revenue Procedure 2017-34 applies to estates that are not normally required to file an estate tax return because the value of the gross estate and adjusted taxable gifts is under the filing threshold.

Portability of the estate tax exemption means that if one spouse dies and does not make full use of his or her $5,490,000 (in 2017) federal estate tax exemption, then the surviving spouse can make an election to utilize the unused exemption (deceased spousal unused exclusion (DSUE)), add it to the surviving spouse’s own exemption.  The DSUE is also available for application to the surviving spouse’s subsequent gifts during life.

In February 2014, the IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2014-18 that provided a simplified method for obtaining an extension of time under the “9100 relief” provisions to make a portability election that was available to estates of decedents dying after 2010, if the estate was not required to file an estate tax return and if the decedent was survived by a spouse.  This simplified method was available only on or before December 31, 2014.

After 2014, the IRS issued “numerous letter rulings” granting an extension of time to elect portability under §2010(c)(5)(A) when the decedent’s estate was not required to file an estate tax return.

The IRS acknowledged in Revenue Procedure 2017-34 that it has determined that the “considerable number of ruling requests” for an extension of time to elect portability “indicates a need for continuing relief for the estates of decedents having no filing requirement.”   Accordingly, Revenue Procedure 2017-34 allows for use of a simplified method to obtain an extension of time under the 9100 relief provisions to elect portability (provided that certain requirements are satisfied).

The IRS has made this simplified method available for all eligible estates through January 2, 2018, or the second anniversary of the decedent’s date of death.  The simplified method provided in Revenue Procedure 2017-34 is to be used in lieu of the letter ruling process.  No user fee is required for submissions filed under this revenue procedure.

President Obama just signed a new law that allows First Party Special Needs Trusts to be established by mentally competent individuals for their own benefit.  This is a major “fix” to the current law which only allows First Party Special Needs Trusts to be set up by a parent, grandparent, guardian or a court.  For those individuals who have no living parent or grandparent (or have no relationship with them) and do not have or need a legal guardian, this law will avoid the time and money spent to have a court create such a Trust.

Under a First-Party Special Needs Trust the trustee can use trust assets to supplement (but not replace) any benefits or governmental assistance such person is or may become entitled to receive.  All assets held in such a Trust will not “count” as assets of the disabled person for purpose of qualifying for government benefits.

A First-Party Special Needs Trust is a trust created to own the assets currently owned in the name of a person with special needs. These assets may be gifts or bequests from well- meaning family or friends that were given to person with special needs either outright or in a trust that does not qualify as a special needs trust.  These may also be assets received by a person with special needs through a lawsuit (such as a medical malpractice action).

A First-Party Trust can only be set up for someone who is deemed disabled under the Social Security Administration definition.  For a minor, a person would be considered disabled if he or she “has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”  An individual age 18 and older is “disabled” if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in (i) the inability to do any substantial gainful activity and can be expected to result in death; or (ii) has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

In a First-Party Trust, at the beneficiary’s death, the remaining trust assets will reimburse Medicaid for any monies expended while the Trust was in existence for medical care, home health care or nursing home care of the person with special needs.  Thereafter, any other public assistance programs which have a valid right of reimbursement under state or federal law will be repaid.

Any remaining trust assets will pass to those persons appointed by the person with special needs in his or her Will to receive the assets.  If a person with special needs is under the age of 18 and/or is incompetent, then the assets will pass to those persons entitled to receive the assets under the intestacy laws of New Jersey.

Although First-Party Trusts are helpful and even critical in certain situations, there are several downsides that should be carefully considered before moving forward with the creation of this type of Trust.  First, there is a reimbursement requirement that is described above.  Second, because the state has an interest in the remaining assets in these Trusts, there is substantial state oversight of investments and distributions from the Trust.  Therefore, a person who is or may receive government benefits who has assets in his or her own name should speak with an attorney to carefully review the best options under the circumstances.

The IRS has at last issued long-anticipated proposed regulations under Code §2704.  We perceive the proposed regulations as an attempt by the IRS to curtail the use of discounts – such as minority interest and lack of marketability discounts – in valuing transfers of interests in family-controlled entities for gift and estate tax purposes.

“Family limited partnerships” – that is, family investment entities usually structured as LLCs or limited partnerships – have been a popular estate planning technique for years.  Generally speaking, a client can transfer non-voting, non-marketable interests in these types of entities to children or a trust, and claim a valuation discount due to the restrictions that apply to the interest transferred.

Code §2704 provides that certain “applicable restrictions” on ownership interests in family entities, ie, entities where the transferor and family members control the entity, should be disregarded for valuation purposes.  The statute also permits the IRS to issue regulations providing for other restrictions (as determined by the IRS) to be disregarded in determining the value of a transfer to a family member, if a restriction has the effect of reducing the value of the transferred interest but does not ultimately reduce the value of such interest to the transferee.

The proposed regulations make two overarching changes.  First, changes under Code §2704(a) create new rules relating to a lapse of a liquidating right.  These changes are less relevant, at least in our practice, as we generally do not structure entities to include liquidation or other rights that lapse.

Second, changes under Code §2704(b) create a new concept of “Disregarded Restrictions.”  Under the proposed regulations, a restriction that will lapse at any time after the transfer, or a restriction that may be removed or overridden by the transferor (or the transferor and family members acting together) will be disregarded for gift and estate tax valuation purposes.  This is the case even if the restriction on the interest is pursuant to state law rather than a governing business agreement.  There are certain exceptions – for example, an owner’s right to liquidate or “put” his or her interest to the entity and receive cash within six months is not considered a “disregarded restriction.”

The effect of this rule appears to be that it would eliminate minority interest discounts, because the holder of any interest would be deemed to be able to liquidate his or her interest in the entity without restrictions.  The effect of the proposed regulations on lack of marketability discounts is unclear, although it seems the IRS similarly could argue for a small or zero lack of marketability discount on the theory that the holder of the interest is deemed to be able to liquidate the interest.

Thus, if the proposed regulations are adopted in their current form, they likely will increase the value for gift and estate tax purposes of transfers of interests in family-controlled entities.

The proposed regulations are controversial.  Commentators already have questioned whether the Treasury has exceeded its statutory authority in issuing the proposed regulations.  The proposed regulations are (at least in this author’s opinion) complicated and ambiguous, and perhaps unfair.  For example, if a client creates an LLC to purchase and manage a commercial property, and the client transfers an interest in the LLC to his or her child, and the interest is subject to typical restrictions on sale of the interest or the ability of a member to liquidate (largely because the asset owned by the LLC is illiquid and perhaps leveraged), then it seems that the true value of the interest transferred to the child would be reduced due to these restrictions (think about what a willing buyer would really pay the child for the LLC interest); however, under the proposed regulations, the value of the LLC interest transferred would be artificially inflated for gift tax purposes.

The proposed regulations are not effective until they are finalized.  Treasury has requested written comments by November 2, 2016 and a public hearing on the regulations is scheduled for December 1, 2016.