Steve Akers of Bessemer Trust is one of the best speakers you’ll ever have the pleasure of running into as a trusts and estates lawyer. As a former private practice T&E lawyer himself, he knows what’s important for those of us in the trenches. Which is why I was especially interested in his recent write up of Rev. Proc. 2011-48 (the new IRS guidance for preserving § 2053 estate tax deductions that are uncertain and have yet to be paid) poetically entitled Protective Claim for Refund Procedures for Section 2053 Claims.
If an estate is both subject to the estate tax and litigation, a key issue everyone needs to stay focused on from day one is ensuring all applicable tax deductions under IRC § 2053 are preserved. For example, IRC § 2053 tax deductions include attorney’s fees and costs (usually a big sticking point in T&E litigation). Maximizing IRC § 2053 tax deductions creates win-win opportunities by mining the tax code for new funds with which to settle disputes.
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Summary of Procedures Under Rev. Proc. 2011-48
1. Time Period For Filing Protective Claim. The protective claim for refund may be filed at any time within the period of limitations for filing a claim for refund under §6511(a) (i.e., the later of three years after the return was filed or two years after the payment of tax). Rev. Proc. 2011-48, § 4.01.
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5. Identification of the Claim or Expense; Ancillary Expenses. Each claim or expense for which a protective claim for refund is made must be clearly identified with “an explanation of the reasons and contingencies delaying the actual payment to be made in satisfaction of the claim or expense.” Rev. Proc. 2011-48, § 4.05(1). For contested matters, the protective claim must identify the contested matter and potential liability by including the name of the claimant, the basis of the claim, “the extent or amount of the liability claimed,” and a brief statement of the status of the contested matter. (A copy of relevant court pleadings generally will be sufficient to identify the claim.) Rev. Proc. 2011-48, § 4.04(3).
There is no necessity that the protective claim “state a particular dollar amount.” The 2009 § 2053 regulation confirms that even though the “specific dollar amount” issue is not addressed in the Revenue Procedure. Treas. Reg. § 20.2053-1(d)(5). This is a very important consideration in crafting the protective claim because a request for a specific high dollar amount of deduction would likely be a “smoking gun” in the underlying litigation about the contingent claim.
Ancillary expenses (such as attorneys’ fees, court costs, appraisal fees, and accounting fees) “related to resolving, defending, or satisfying the identified claim or expense” are automatically included as part of the claim for refund without the need for separate identification of these ancillary expenses. Rev. Proc. 2011-48, § 4.04(2).
CCA 200848045, provides a general overview of protective claims. While Rev. Proc. 2011-48 does not specifically refer to this Chief Council Advice, it may nevertheless assist in understanding the type of information that the IRS is seeking in identifying claims. CCA 200848045 says that Reg. § 301.6402-2 does not require that a particular dollar amount be asserted but the claim must “identify and describe the contingencies affecting the claim.” This requirement “is interpreted liberally by the Service. So long as the claim is sufficiently clear and definite [to] apprise us of the essential nature of the claim, it will be accepted as having met the requirement.” (This is important because providing too much detail about what makes the claim contingent may give the other side in the litigation insight into the taxpayer’s perceived weaknesses in its case.)
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10. Limited Scope of Review. Rev. Proc. 2011-48 confirms that “generally the Service will limit its review of the Form 706 to the deduction under section 2053 that was the subject of the protective claim.” Rev. Proc. 2011-48, § 5.01, referencing Notice 2009-84. However, very importantly, the limited review described in Notice 2009-84 and in § 5.01 does not apply to “[a] taxpayer that chooses not to follow or fails to comply with the procedures set forth in this revenue procedure.” Rev. Proc. 2011-48, § 3.
The explicit reference to Notice 2009-84 is important, because that Notice provides insight into why the IRS inserted the word “generally” in the sentence about limiting the scope of review. The Supreme Court has held that the IRS can examine each item on a return to offset the amount a refund claim, even after the period of limitations on assessment has run. Lewis v. Reynolds, 284 U.S. 281, 283 (1932). However, the IRS in Notice 2009-84 agreed that it would limit the review of protective claims for refund to preserve the ability to claim a deduction under §2053 “to the evidence relating to the deduction under section 2053,” and not exercise its authority to examine each item on the return to offset a refund claim. This limitation does not apply if the IRS is considering a claim for refund not based on a protective claim regarding a deduction under §2053 in the same estate. Also, the Notice says the limitation applies “only if the protective claim for refund ripens after the expiration of the period of limitations on assessment and does not apply if there is evidence of fraud, malfeasance, collusion, concealment, or misrepresentation of a material fact.” The Revenue Procedure is not as explicit but makes a passing reference to this requirement about the refund ripening after the period of limitations has run. It says the limited scope of review applies when determining “whether there is an overpayment of tax based on a timely-filed section 2053 protective claim for refund that becomes ready for consideration after the expiration of the period of limitation on assessment …” (Accordingly, there may be an advantage in not having resolved the underlying lawsuit regarding the claim against the estate until after the period on additional assessments has run — to the extent that there may be items on other parts of the estate tax return that the IRS might question if it could.)