My earlier blog posting covered some of the basics of Form 5471, ‚ÄúInformation Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations‚ÄĚ. The Form is notoriously complex and consumes hundreds of man-hours in record-keeping and preparation time. If a taxpayer fails to ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ the Form 5471, as that term is interpreted by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), trouble lies ahead. As detailed in my prior post, not only can stiff penalties be imposed, the statute of limitations for that particular tax year can remain open indefinitely.
Form 5471 is also of great concern to taxpayers who are expatriating. Why is this so?
If an individual expatriates and is treated as a ‚Äúcovered expatriate‚ÄĚ, the tax laws exact a very hefty pound of flesh. First, the individual will be subject to the ‚ÄúExit Tax‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúMark-to-Market‚ÄĚ regime. Under this regime, generally, all property owned by the covered expatriate worldwide is treated as sold for its fair market value on the day before the expatriation date. This ‚Äėphantom‚Äô gain is then taken into account for the tax year of the deemed sale and subject to tax, usually at capital gains rates. In addition, a 3.8% ‚Äúnet investment income tax‚ÄĚ will likely also apply to this deemed gain if certain modified adjusted gross income thresholds are met. The Exit Tax must be computed via one‚Äôs Form 1040 with the gain or loss being reported on the relevant part of the 1040 for the part of the year that the taxpayer is still considered a US person.
The tax burdens don‚Äôt stop there. Special onerous tax rules apply to the covered expatriate‚Äôs deferred compensation plans and specified tax deferred accounts imposing a 30% withholding tax on later distributions.
In addition to the Exit Tax, US recipients of any gift or bequest at any time in the future from the ‚Äúcovered expatriate‚ÄĚ will be hit with a special tax upon receiving that gift or inheritance. Under current rules, this special transfer tax is set at 40% of the gift or bequest. This law provides an alternative way for the US to recoup US Gift or Estate taxes that it would otherwise have received (upon the making of lifetime gifts, or upon death) had the individual not given up his US citizenship or long-term residency. More information about the current expatriation tax regime can be found on my tax blog posting here.
Under the US expatriation rules, an individual will be treated as a ‚Äúcovered expatriate‚ÄĚ if any of the following tests apply:
When a US citizen or long-term green card holder expatriates, the individual must submit Form 8854, which is a very detailed form, to the IRS along with the final tax return. Part of this form requires the individual to certify under penalties of perjury whether he has complied with all of his tax obligations for the past 5 years including but not limited to income tax, employment tax, gift tax, filing of information returns as well as having met all obligations to pay tax, interest and penalties. If the person has not complied with these tax obligations, he will be a ‚Äúcovered expatriate‚ÄĚ. This so-called tax certification requirement, is the trigger with which we are concerned when Form 5471 has either not been filed or, if it was filed, it was not ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ. If either of these errors occurred during the five year period prior to the year of expatriation, the taxpayer will lack full tax compliance and will be tarred with the ‚Äúcovered expatriate‚ÄĚ brush.
When is Form 5471 ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ? The IRS has set a pretty high bar, at least for purposes of imposing the penalties discussed in my earlier blog post. I imagine the guidelines set out by the IRS for penalty imposition purposes will be equally applicable in determining ‚Äútax compliance‚ÄĚ for expatriation purposes. Congress and the IRS are not happy with expatriates. Do not expect leniency if your Form 5471 is examined and found lacking.
The IRS concedes that ‚Äúsubstantial compliance‚ÄĚ with regard to filing Form 5471 is not specifically defined in the Internal Revenue Code or Treasury Regulations. The IRS draws from other sources in making its determination of ‚Äúsubstantial compliance‚ÄĚ. Below are some highlights from the IRS ‚ÄúInternational Practice Units‚ÄĚ (IPU). IPUs were recently designed by the IRS to tackle the lack of knowledge within the IRS of the complex tax laws. The IPUs will be of strong interest to the IRS‚Äô LB&I (Large Business and International group) which specializes in international matters. The IPUs will assist revenue agents who are not highly specialized in international tax matters to review transactions and to assess taxes and penalties in the international context.
With regard to Form 5471 a special IPU was designed and the issue whether the form is ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ is addressed (commencing page 17):
According to the IRS, the Form 5471 is not ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ if it is filed with any of the following errors on page 1 of the Form:
Other factors that can result in the Form 5471 failing to be ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ:
The IRS guidance also indicates that in determining if the Form is ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ, the benchmark will be examining compliance on a ‚Äúsignificant item by significant item‚ÄĚ basis rather than based on an ‚Äúaggregate approach‚ÄĚ (e.g., looking to whether the taxpayer provided more of the required information than not). In addition, a ‚Äúfacts and circumstances‚ÄĚ analysis will be used for determining if the Form is ‚Äúsubstantially complete‚ÄĚ in contrast to a strict interpretation of the regulations that any over-reported or underreported transaction amount means the Form was ‚Äúsubstantially incomplete.‚ÄĚ The IRS will also look to whether the error was significant and whether the IRS‚Äô ability to gather information necessary to conduct an effective examination was impacted by the error(s) made on the Form.
If you are planning to expatriate, make sure you can certify full tax compliance for the prescribed 5-year period. Hire a professional to carefully review your tax situation and all of your tax filings. Don‚Äôt guess! It‚Äôs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do things right or, like Mr. Gerd Topsnik, pay the price later.
The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only. The information is not intended to be comprehensive or to include advice on which you may rely. You should always consult a suitably qualified professional on any specific matter.
Virginia La Torre Jeker J.D.
Virginia La Torre Jeker J.D., is based in Dubai. Virginia has been a member of the New York Bar since 1984 and is also admitted to practice before the United States Tax Court. She has over 30 years of experience specializing in the international aspects of US tax, including FATCA. She has been quoted in the New York Times and Newsweek, and is regularly quoted in many local news articles and publications."
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