Economic Substance- A Taxpayer Win

In Uncategorized on 12/31/2010 at 20:54

We heard a great deal about economic substance this year, what with foreign currency swaps (e.g., LR Development Company LLC, Transferee, T.C. Mem. 2010-203, 09/16/10) and the Health Care Reform bill. Mostly it’s the taxpayer who gets nailed on the doctrine. But for once, the Tax Court gives a New Year’s Eve present to a taxpayer, and the economic substance doctrine gets credit for an assist.

In Judith F. Lang, T.C. Mem. 2010-286, 12/30/2010, the taxpayer’s mother, Mrs. Field, paid $24,559 directly to the medical provider for health care for her daughter, the taxpayer. That gift was not subject to gift tax, of course (see IRC§2503(e)(1)), as it was paid by Mrs. Field directly to the provider, Mrs. Field having no obligation to support the taxpayer, as the taxpayer is not a minor.

Generous Mrs. Field also paid $5,508 directly to a local taxing authority for real estate taxes due and owing from taxpayer.

IRS disallowed taxpayer’s deductions for the gifted amounts, claiming form of the transaction governs, and disallows taxpayer’s medical deduction and real estate tax deduction to the extent each was covered by Mrs. Field’s gifts.

Taxpayer’s position is that in substance it was equivalent to Mrs. Field’s writing a check to taxpayer and taxpayer paying the creditors. The Court expressly refuses to allow the gift tax implications to override State law (in this case Massachusetts) that payment to a creditor of the donee, made with donative intent, is a gift to the donee.

The Court stated at pages 4-5 of its decision: “There is precedent for State law controlling whether a gift at the time of payment affects who is the payor. See, e.g., Ruch v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1982-493, revd. on another issue 718 F.2d 719 (5th Cir. 1983). Mrs. Field made the medical expense payments for her daughter with donative intent. Although Mrs. Field and petitioner would not be subject to the gift tax, the income tax treatment in this context is not controlled by the gift tax consequence. See Pierre v. Commissioner, 133 T.C. 24, 35 (2009). Applying substance over form, we treat petitioner as having received from her mother a gift of $24,559 with which petitioner paid her own medical expenses. Petitioner should be credited with having made the payments for purposes of the income tax deduction in question.” [Footnote omitted]

The Court also does not consider gift tax implications of Mrs. Field’s real estate tax payment. The limited class of nontaxable direct payment gifts (IRC§2503(e)(2)(A) and §2503(e)(2)(B)), educational tuition and medical care, does not include real estate taxes. However, the amount paid, $5,508, is below the annual exclusion. Nevertheless, the Court leaves gift taxes as a question for another day.

Neither gift involves a potential double deduction. Mrs. Field did not claim the deduction for the medical expenses, taxpayer did. And the real estate taxes were solely the obligation of the landowner, the taxpayer, and could only be deducted by her.

In short, a clear win for the taxpayer. Substance does trump form.

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