DOJ sues Syndicated Easement Promoters

The Department of Justice has finally filed a civil complaint against certain promoters who have been spearheading syndicated easements to the tune of over $2 billion in claimed federal tax deductions using grossly inflated appraisals.
Continue Reading Happy New Year’s Tidings for Land Trusts and Other Conservation Advocates

Service Focuses on Conservation Purpose Test and Division of Proceeds Clause in PBBM-Rose Hill, Belair Woods, and Champions Retreat Golf Founders

The IRS has been busy this year challenging conservation easement deductions, particularly conservation easements protecting golf courses and conservation easements providing overinflated syndicated tax deductions.
Continue Reading Three Autumn Cases Deny Golf Course and Syndicated Conservation Easement Tax Deductions

Last month, the IRS issued final regulations entitled “Substantiation and Reporting Requirements for Cash and Noncash Charitable Contribution Deductions,” codified as Treasury Regulation Sections 1.170A-15 (cash), -16 (noncash), -17 (qualified appraisals and appraisers), and -18 (clothing and household items).

Continue Reading IRS Publishes New Gift Substantiation Regulations

Last week, Representative Mike Kelly (R) of Pennsylvania and Representative Mike Thompson (D) of California introduced the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2017 as H.R. 4459. The Act is simple; comprising only two pages, it addresses a certain type of abusive conservation easement transaction that has been proliferating over the past decade: the syndicated easement.

Continue Reading Bipartisan House Bill Addresses Syndicated Conservation Easement Tax Shelters

This month, the Tax Court revived a method to defeat conservation deductions with its October 10 opinion published as Palmolive Building Investors LLC et al. v. Commissioner, No. 23444-14; 149 T.C. No. 18 (Oct. 10, 2017), holding that if a taxpayer donates a conservation easement, the Treasury Regulations’ requirement that any mortgage must be subordinated to the conservation easement includes subordination of the mortgagee’s rights to insurance and condemnation proceeds.

Continue Reading Tax Court Declines to Follow First Circuit Ruling on Mortgage Subordinations & Conservation Easements

On September 27, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an extension of the Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act. Rather than sunsetting on January 1, 2019, the Act now extends until January 1, 2029.

The Act, originally authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting and enrolled in 2013 as Government Code Section 51042, permits certain local governments to voluntarily enter into contracts with property owners who commit to using their property for agricultural use in exchange for property tax breaks.

Continue Reading Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act Extended

The Fifth Circuit encourages flexibility for conservation easement deductions in Bosque Mountain Ranch, while the Tax Court makes it difficult for farmers in Rutkoske. 

Two important conservation easement opinions were handed down last week.

Bosque Canyon Ranch [1] is noteworthy for the Fifth Circuit’s conservation-friendly language encouraging a flexible interpretation of the myriad statutory and regulatory requirements for easement deductions. This is a stark departure from a recent series of cases denying conservation easement deductions based on what some would call “foot faults.” More specifically, the appellate opinion in Bosque Canyon Ranch: (1) provides some certainty regarding what should be provided in a baseline documentation report, noting that the IRS should not pick apart each component of a report, and (2) holds that the right to relocate homesites that are carved out of an easement does not violate the perpetuity requirement for conservation easements, when the easement holder has approval rights over the final location and the maximum size of the homesites cannot change.

In a much less taxpayer-friendly opinion, the Tax Court in Rutkoske[2] provides the first judicial interpretation of the statutory rule that permits qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct the value of a conservation easement donation against up to 100% of their adjusted gross income. The Tax Court finds that income from the sale of farming property does not count toward qualifying the farmer and rancher for this benefit.

The cases are discussed in detail below.

Continue Reading New Cases Send Mixed Messages to Conservation Easement Donors

Those familiar with conservation easements know that to qualify for a federal tax deduction, a conservation easement must meet several rigorous requirements found in Internal Revenue Code Section 170 and Section 1.170A-14 of the Treasury Regulations, not the least of which is the requirement that the easement be granted “in perpetuity.” In addition, the easement must be subject to “legally enforceable restrictions” (such as by recordation) that will prevent uses inconsistent with the conservation purposes of the donation.

Continue Reading Unsurprising Façade Easement Holding by Tax Court: Conservation Easement Must Be Recorded to Qualify for Deduction

While those working in social enterprise are still grappling with how to define it, Professor of Law Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer of Notre Dame Law School takes a look at social enterprise through the lens of domestic tax law, and explores whether it is necessary or desirable to modify existing law to better accommodate social enterprise.

photo-1454165804606-c3d57bc86b40The February 15, 2017 deadline for nonprofit organizations in California seeking to initially obtain or renew exemption from property taxes is quickly approaching, and there are changes to the reporting requirements if your organization allows third parties to use your property.

An increased concern amongst many tax-exempt organizations is how to report use of their property by private persons or non-exempt organizations.


Continue Reading Annual Filing for Welfare Exemption Due On or Before February 15th

On November 4, 2016, the IRS updated its Conservation Easement Audit Techniques Guide (CE Audit Guide) for the first time since March 15, 2012.

According to the IRS’s introduction on its Audit Techniques Guide website, Audit Techniques Guides (ATGs) are developed to help IRS examiners during audits by explaining issues and accounting methods within specific industries. ATGs are also meant to provide guidance to small business owners and tax professionals for tax planning purposes within those industries. However, each ATG contains a disclaimer that it is not “an official pronouncement of the law or position of the Service and cannot be used, cited, or relied upon as such.” This article will not explain the CE Audit Guide in depth, but rather discuss the specific updates made in November.

Continue Reading IRS Updates Conservation Easement Audit Techniques Guide

accountant-accounting-adviser-advisor-159804A new private ruling may be of great interest to clients with substantial real estate interests who wish to contribute one or more properties to a family foundation.  The ruling suggests that payment by the foundation to a property management entity controlled by the donor may be permissible under the personal services exception.

Continue Reading Private Ruling Exempts Property Management Services from Self-Dealing

The case of Salus Mundi Foundation et al v. Commissioner

Transferee LiabilityOn August 15, 2016, the Tax Court decided in Salus Mundi Foundation et al v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2016-154, that two foundations were liable as transferees for a corporation’s unpaid federal tax liability after another foundation distributed to the foundations the proceeds of the sale of the corporation’s stock.

The history in this case involves a marital trust that initially owned all of the stock in a C corporation called Double-D Ranch.  Later, a portion of the stock was transferred to the Diebold Foundation in New York.  Subsequent to that, the Diebold Foundation in New York sold the stock and distributed the proceeds from the sale of Double-D Ranch stock to three foundations formed by the Diebold children, pursuant to a New York state-approved plan of dissolution.

Continue Reading Transferee Liability: The [Unlikely] Situation that your Nonprofit Receives a Charitable Gift with Expensive Tax Strings Attached

taxThe IRS Office of Chief Counsel recently released Information Letter 2016-0036 in response to questions regarding the taxation of crowdfunding revenue. In it the IRS concluded that crowdfunding revenue is taxable to the extent it is received in exchange for services or property.

Continue Reading Thinking of Crowdfunding Your Project? Beware – the Taxman Cometh

photo-1446482972539-0ed52b3e9520We have all been told at one point or another that we simply “can’t have it all.”  But for owners of recreational or agricultural land who desire to preserve the land, pass it down to their descendants as a legacy property, and achieve substantial tax savings, “(almost) having it all” is a possibility.  Enter, the conservation easement – a valuable tool that can bridge the divide between these often competing interests.
Continue Reading Conserve Your Land, Preserve Your Estate: The Conservation Easement as a Land Use, Tax & Estate Planning Tool

photo-1460925895917-afdab827c52fIn recent years, private foundations increasingly have sought to incorporate socially responsible investing (“SRI”) mandates.  Some SRI mandates take the form of negative screens—e.g., screening out tobacco stocks.  Other SRI approaches are more proactive—e.g., a foundation focusing on disease eradication might invest in companies that develop vaccines.  However, there has been a view—accurate or not—that some socially responsible investments yield lower risk-adjusted financial returns than traditional investments (such investments are sometimes referred to as “concessionary”).

Accordingly, when a foundation engages in an SRI program, several legal issues arise.

Continue Reading IRS Notice Provides Support for Socially Responsible Investing by Private Foundations

A promise to give is not a guaranteed charitable gift.

smartphone-586903_1920In an open letter to their newborn daughter last December, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan announced they will eventually give 99 percent of their Facebook shares during their lives to a variety of important social causes.  Over the past several months, commentators have expressed both enthusiasm and concern with the manner in which the couple chose to commit their wealth to advancing these causes. 
Continue Reading What Does the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Mean for Modern Philanthropy?

tax-468440_1920In July of 2014, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) introduced a shorter application form to help small charities apply for 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status more easily.  At that time, the Form 1023-EZ required a $400 user fee to be submitted with the application.

Effective July 1, 2016, the cost will drop to $275 for Form 1023-EZ filers, pursuant to recently issued Revenue Procedure 2016-32.


Continue Reading Form 1023-EZ Filers Benefit From Reduced Fee