Tips to a Successful Tax Return

Having the right team of advisors is critical to achieving your financial goals faster than you ever thought possible. For most people, taxes are the single biggest expense. This makes finding the right tax preparer for your team extremely important.


First, not all tax preparers are the same. I previously wrote an article about this last year titled: “Tax Returns – Are they really all created equal”, and you may be as surprised as other readers about just how much tax return preparation can vary.

In fact, I calculated the average savings I typically find from annual tax savings, reducing professional fees and audit assessments. In total, the average savings are:

– $23,750 Annual tax savings

– $5,000 Audit defense savings

– $10,000 Reduced audit assessment savings

– $50,000 Reduced legal fees

– $3,000 Reduced tax return preparation fees

This is a total average potential savings of $91,750! Your tax preparer does make a difference! How much more could you do with these savings?

Second, the right tax preparer for you depends on what is important to you. Take a minute to answer this question:


How you answer this question will impact what type of tax preparer you need on your team. I’ve asked this questions to clients, prospects and colleagues. I have compiled the most popular answers and what it means to you as you find the tax preparer for your team.

ANSWER #1: Paying the least amount of tax legally

Your tax preparer needs to:

– Know the tax law very well and know how to be creative legally.

– Ask you a lot of questions about your situation in order to understand your situation and goals.

– Have a review process where at least one other person reviews your return solely for the purpose of how to reduce your taxes legally.


Q1: Can you tell me about the other ___________ (your industry) you service?

A: Your tax preparer needs to know how the tax law applies to your situation. Having other clients in your industry or with similar investments indicates that the tax preparer is likely to be familiar with the tax laws that impact you.

Q2: Who will be working on my tax return?

A: It’s very common (and a good business practice) for tax preparers to have staff prepare your tax return. You want to make sure the other people working on your return have the same level of expertise.

Q3: What is your tax return review process?

A: Tax preparers who are focused on reducing your taxes will have this built into their review process. Usually it involves having another experienced tax preparer review the return solely for the purpose of finding ways to reduce your taxes.

Q4: What would you have done differently on my past tax return?

A: Show the tax preparer you are interviewing your prior year tax return. Creative tax preparers will be able to give you at least one idea of what you can do to reduce your taxes by looking at your tax return for just a few minutes. If it’s creativity you are after, this is a great question to ask! But don’t expect the tax preparer to give you all the details right then and there – that’s why you pay them!

Q5: How much can you save me in taxes?

A: While it’s difficult for any tax preparer to answer this in just a few minutes of looking at your past tax return, it is possible for them to know if they can save you taxes after spending 30 minutes with you.

Q6: What deadlines do you impose on clients?

A: This may seem like an odd question for minimizing your taxes but it has a direct impact. If your tax preparer allows you to provide your information a week before the tax return is due, it’s very unlikely that the tax preparer will have the time to focus on your return to truly minimize your taxes. Tax preparers that want to reduce your taxes want your tax return information early and will communicate that to you.

Q7: What recent tax law changes should I be aware of?
A: To minimize your taxes, your tax preparer needs to know the tax law inside and out, which includes the latest changes. Your tax preparer needs to be able to answer this question without hesitation.

ANSWER #2: Minimizing tax return preparation fees Your tax preparer needs to:

– Focus on the tax work and recommend someone else for the non-tax work (such as bookkeeping).

– Request tax information in a certain format.

– Require you to input your information online.


Q1: What can I do to reduce my tax return preparation fees?

A: To minimize your tax return preparation fees, your tax preparer always needs to have your fees in mind. Ask your tax preparer what you can do to reduce your fees. If you don’t get at least 2 suggestions, your tax preparer probably isn’t thinking about how to keep your fees low.

Common suggestions include:

– Have someone other than the tax preparer do your bookkeeping. I am always skeptical when a tax preparer does the bookkeeping. First, they either charge an arm and leg or if they reduce their rates to accommodate you, it means they don’t spend their time entirely on tax issues, which could indicate their tax skills aren’t up to par.

– Organize your information. Don’t bring your tax preparer a shoebox! A tax preparer that is really focused on keeping your fees down will have forms, spreadsheets and other tools available for you to use to organize your tax return information.

– Enter your information online. Many tax preparers now require clients to input their information online. Accurately entered information can help reduce fees. Caution: Information that is entered inaccurately can increase your fees!

Q2: What is your fee structure?

A: Your tax preparer needs to be able to answer this question with confidence. Any wavering could indicate that the tax preparer knows the fees are too high for you but just doesn’t want to tell you. Unfortunately in these situations, you find out too late!

ANSWER #3: Reducing audit risk Your tax preparer needs to:

– Know the tax law very well and how to properly report your activity.

– Understand the IRS’s current “hot buttons” or “red flags.”

– Offer an audit defense plan.


Q1: How many audits have you been through and what triggered the audit?

A: The most important part of this question is what triggered the audit. If it was triggered by how something was reported, then that may be something the tax preparer had control over (and may be a bad sign for you).

Q2: What was the outcome of the audits you have been through?

A: A return can be randomly selected for audit or selected because of a certain activity (even though it was reported correctly). So it’s important to understand the outcome of the audits. Was additional tax assessed or were there no changes? Additional tax may indicate that something was not reported properly.

Q3: Do you offer an audit defense plan?

A: Tax preparers that are confident in their work will offer an “insurance” program that covers their professional fees to handle your audit if your return is selected for audit.

Q4: What is your tax return review process?

A: Although tax returns can be selected randomly for audit, many are selected due to how items are reported on the tax return. Tax preparers who are focused on reducing audit risk will have a review process that includes another tax preparer reviewing your return solely for accuracy of reporting.

Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion Explained and Exemplified


There is a clear-cut difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. One is legally acceptable and the other is an offense. Unfortunately however many consultants even in this country do not understand the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Most of the planning aspects that have been suggested by these consultants often fall into the category of tax evasion (which is illegal) and so tends to put clients into a risky situation and also diminish the value of tax planning.

This may be one of the prime reasons where clients have lost faith in tax planning consultants as most of them have often suggested dubious systems which are clearly under the category of tax evasion.

In this chapter I provide some examples and case studies (including legal cases) of how tax evasion (often suggested by consultants purporting to be specialists in tax planning) is undertaken not only in this country but in many parts of the world. It is true that many people do not like to pay their hard-earned money to the government. However doing this in an illegal manner such as by tax evasion is not the answer. Good tax planning involves tax avoidance or the reduction of the tax incidence. If this is done properly it can save substantial amounts of money in a legally acceptable way. This chapter also highlights some practical examples and case studies (including legal) of tax avoidance.

Why Governments Need Your Taxes (Basic Economic Arguments)

Income tax the biggest source of government funds today in most countries is a comparatively recent invention, probably because the notion of annual income is itself a modern concept. Governments preferred to tax things that were easy to measure and on which it was thus easy to calculate the liability. This is why early taxes concentrated on tangible items such as land and property, physical goods, commodities and ships, as well as things such as the number of windows or fireplaces in a building. In the 20th century, particularly the second half, governments around the world took a growing share of their country’s national income in tax, mainly to pay for increasingly more expensive defense efforts and for a modern welfare state. Indirect tax on consumption, such as value-added tax, has become increasingly important as direct taxation on income and wealth has become increasingly unpopular. But big differences among countries remain. One is the overall level of tax. For example, in United States tax revenue amounts to around one-third of its GDP (gross domestic product), whereas in Sweden it is closer to half.

Others are the preferred methods of collecting it (direct versus indirect), the rates at which it is levied and the definition of the tax base to which these rates are applied. Countries have different attitudes to progressive and regressive taxation. There are also big differences in the way responsibility for taxation is divided among different levels of government. Arguably according to the discipline of economics any tax is a bad tax. But public goods and other government activities have to be paid for somehow, and economists often have strong views on which methods of taxation are more or less efficient. Most economists agree that the best tax is one that has as little impact as possible on people’s decisions about whether to undertake a productive economic activity. High rates of tax on labour may discourage people from working, and so result in lower tax revenue than there would be if the tax rate were lower, an idea captured in the Laffer curve in economics theory.

Certainly, the marginal rate of tax may have a bigger effect on incentives than the overall tax burden. Land tax is regarded as the most efficient by some economists and tax on expenditure by others, as it does all the taking after the wealth creation is done. Some economists favor a neutral tax system that does not influence the sorts of economic activities that take place. Others favor using tax, and tax breaks, to guide economic activity in ways they favor, such as to minimize pollution and to increase the attractiveness of employing people rather than capital. Some economists argue that the tax system should be characterized by both horizontal equity and vertical equity, because this is fair, and because when the tax system is fair people may find it harder to justify tax evasion or avoidance.

However, who ultimately pays (the tax incidence) may be different from who is initially charged, if that person can pass it on, say by adding the tax to the price he charges for his output. Taxes on companies, for example, are always paid in the end by humans, be they workers, customers or shareholders. You should note that taxation and its role in economics is a very wide subject and this book does not address the issues of taxation and economics but rather tax planning to improve your economic position. However if you are interested in understanding the role of taxation in economics you should consult a good book on economics which often talks about the impact of different types of taxation on the economic activities of a nation of society.

Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Tax avoidance can be summed as doing everything possible within the law to reduce your tax bill. Learned Hand, an American judge, once said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible as nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands. On the other hand tax evasion can be defined as paying less tax than you are legally obliged to. There may be a thin line between the two, but as Denis Healey, a former British chancellor, once put it, “The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall.” The courts recognize the fact that no taxpayer is obliged to arrange his/her affairs so as to maximize the tax the government receives. Individuals and businesses are entitled to take all lawful steps to minimize their taxes.

A taxpayer may lawfully arrange her affairs to minimize taxes by such steps as deferring income from one year to the next. It is lawful to take all available tax deductions. It is also lawful to avoid taxes by making charitable contributions. Tax evasion, on the other hand, is a crime. Tax evasion typically involves failing to report income, or improperly claiming deductions that are not authorized. Examples of tax evasion include such actions as when a contractor “forgets” to report the LKR 1, 000,000 cash he receives for building a pool, or when a business owner tries to deduct LKR 1, 000,000 of personal expenses from his business taxes, or when a person falsely claims she made charitable contributions, or significantly overestimates the value of property donated to charity.

Similarly, if an estate is worth LKR 5,000,000 and the executor files a false tax return, improperly omitting property and claiming the estate is only worth LKR 100,000, thus owing much less in taxes. Tax evasion has an impact on our tax system. It causes a significant loss of revenue to the community that could be used for funding improvements in health, education, and other government programs. Tax evasion also allows some businesses to gain an unfair advantage in a competitive market and some individuals to not meet their tax obligations. As a result, the burden of tax not paid by those who choose to evade tax falls on other law abiding taxpayers.

Examples of tax evasion are: ï?~ Failing to declare assessable income ï?~ Claiming deductions for expenses that were not incurred or are not legally deductible ï?~ Claiming input credits for goods that Value Added Tax (VAT)has not been paid on ï?~ Failing to pay the PAYE (pay as you earn a form of with holding tax)installments that have been deducted from a payment, for example tax taken out of a worker’s wages ï?~ Failing to lodge tax returns in an attempt to avoid payment. The following are some signs that a person or business may be evading tax: ï?~ Not being registered for VAT despite clearly exceeding the threshold ï?~ Not charging VAT at the correct rate ï?~ Not wanting to issue a receipt ï?~ Providing false invoices ï?~ Using a false business name, address, or taxpayers identification number (TIN) and VAT registration number ï?~ Keeping two sets of accounts, and ï?~ Not providing staff with payment summaries

Legal Aspects of Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion Two general points can be made about tax avoidance and evasion. First, tax avoidance or evasion occurs across the tax spectrum and is not peculiar to any tax type such as import taxes, stamp duties, VAT, PAYE and income tax. Secondly, legislation that addresses avoidance or evasion must necessarily be imprecise. No prescriptive set of rules exists for determining when a particular arrangement amounts to tax avoidance or evasion. This lack of precision creates uncertainty and adds to compliance costs both to the Department of Inland Revenue and the tax payer.

Definitions of Tax Mitigation Avoidance and Evasion It is impossible to express a precise test as to whether taxpayers have avoided, evaded or merely mitigated their tax obligations. As Baragwanath J said in Miller v CIR; McDougall v CIR: What is legitimate ‘mitigation'(meaning avoidance) and what is illegitimate ‘avoidance'(meaning evasion) is in the end to be decided by the Commissioner, the Taxation Review Authority and ultimately the courts, as a matter of judgment. Please note in the above statement the words are precisely as stated in judgment. However there is a mix-up of words which have been clarified by the words in the brackets by me. Tax Mitigation (Avoidance by Planning) Taxpayers are entitled to mitigate their liability to tax and will not be vulnerable to the general anti-avoidance rules in a statute. A description of tax mitigation was given by Lord Templeman in CIR v Challenge Corporate Ltd: Income tax is mitigated by a taxpayer who reduces his income or incurs expenditure in circumstances which reduce his assessable income or entitle him to reduction in his tax liability.

Tax mitigation is, therefore, behavior which, without amounting to tax avoidance (by planning), serves to attract less liability than otherwise might have arisen. Tax Avoidance Tax evasion, as Lord Templeman has pointed out, is not mere mitigation. The term is described directly or indirectly by ï?~ Altering the incidence of any income tax ï?~ Relieving any person from liability to pay income tax ï?~ Avoiding, reducing or postponing any liability to income tax On an excessively literal interpretation, this approach could conceivably apply to mere mitigation, for example, to an individual’s decision not to work overtime, because the additional income would attract a higher rate of tax. However, a better way of approaching tax avoidance is to regard it as an arrangement that, unlike mitigation, yields results that Parliament did not intend.

In Challenge Corporation Ltd v CIR, Cooke J described the effect of the general anti-avoidance rules in these terms: [It] nullifies against the Commissioner for income tax purposes any arrangement to the extent that it has a purpose or effect of tax avoidance, unless that purpose or effect is merely incidental. Where an arrangement is void the Commissioner is given power to adjust the assessable income of any person affected by it, so as to counteract any tax advantage obtained by that person. Woodhouse J commented on the breadth of the general anti-avoidance rule in the Challenge Corporation case, noting that Parliament had taken: The deliberate decision that because the problem of definition in this elusive field cannot be met by expressly spelling out a series of detailed specifications in the statute itself, the interstices must be left for attention by the judges.

Tax Evasion Mitigation and avoidance are concepts concerned with whether or not a tax liability has arisen. With evasion, the starting point is always that a liability has arisen. The question is whether that liability has been illegitimately, even criminally been left unsatisfied. In CIR v Challenge Corporation Ltd, Lord Templeman said: Evasion occurs when the Commissioner is not informed of all the facts relevant to an assessment of tax. Innocent evasion may lead to a re-assessment. Fraudulent evasion may lead to a criminal prosecution as well as re-assessment.

The elements which can attract the criminal label to evasion were elaborated by Dickson J in Denver Chemical Manufacturing v Commissioner of Taxation (New South Wales): An intention to withhold information lest the Commissioner should consider the taxpayer liable to a greater extent than the taxpayer is prepared to concede, is conduct which if the result is to avoid tax would justify finding evasion. Not all evasion is fraudulent. It becomes fraudulent if it involves a deliberate attempt to cheat the revenue. On the other hand, evasion may exist, but may not be fraudulent, if it is the result of a genuine mistake. In order to prove the offence of evasion, the Commissioner must show intent to evade by the taxpayer. As with other offences, this intent may be inferred from the circumstances of the particular case. Tax avoidance and tax mitigation are mutually exclusive. Tax avoidance and tax evasion are not: They may both arise out of the same situation. For example, a taxpayer files a tax return based on the effectiveness of a transaction which is known to be void against the Commissioner as a tax avoidance arrangement.

A senior United Kingdom tax official recently referred to this issue: If an ‘avoidance’ scheme relies on misrepresentation, deception and concealment of the full facts, then avoidance is a misnomer; the scheme would be more accurately described as fraud, and would fall to be dealt with as such. Where fraud is involved, it cannot be re-characterized as avoidance by cloaking the behavior with artificial structures, contrived transactions and esoteric arguments as to how the tax law should be applied to the structures and transactions. Tax Avoidance in a Policy Framework We now turn from the existing legal framework in the context of income tax to a possible policy framework for considering issues relating to tax avoidance generally. The questions considered relevant to a policy analysis of tax avoidance are: What is tax avoidance? Under what conditions is tax avoidance possible? When is tax avoidance a ‘policy problem? What is a sensible policy response to tax avoidance?

What is the value of, and what are the limitations of, general anti-avoidance rules? The first two questions are discussed below What is Tax Avoidance? Finance literature may offer some guidance to what is meant by tax avoidance in its definition of ‘arbitrage’. Arbitrage is a means of profiting from a mismatch in prices. An example is finding and exploiting price differences between New Zealand and Australia in shares in the same listed company. A real value can be found in such arbitrage activity, since it spreads information about prices. Demand for the low-priced goods increases and demand for the high-priced goods decreases, ensuring that goods and resources are put to their best use. Tax arbitrage is, therefore, a form of tax planning. It is an activity directed towards the reduction of tax. It is this concept of tax arbitrage that seems to constitute generally accepted notions of what is tax avoidance. Activities such as giving money to charity or investing in tax-preferred sectors, would not fall into this definition of tax arbitrage, and thus would not be tax avoidance even if the action were motivated by tax considerations. It has been noted that financial arbitrage can have a useful economic function. The same may be true of tax arbitrage, presuming that differences in taxation are deliberate government policy furthering economic efficiency.

It is possible that tax arbitrage directs resources into activities with low tax rates, as intended by government policy. It is also likely to ensure that investors in tax-preferred areas are those who can benefit most from the tax concessions, namely, those facing the highest marginal tax rates. If government policy objectives are better achieved, tax arbitrage is in accordance with the government’s policy intent. Tax avoidance, then, can be viewed as a form of tax arbitrage that is contrary to legislative or policy intent. What Makes Tax Avoidance Possible? The basic ingredients of tax arbitrage are the notion of arbitrage, and the possibilities of profiting from differentials that the notion of arbitrage implies. This definition leads to the view that three conditions need to be present for tax avoidance to exist. A difference in the effective marginal tax rates on economic income is required. For arbitrage to exist, there must be a price differential and, in tax arbitrage, this is a tax differential. Such tax differences can arise because of a variable rate structure, such as a progressive rate scale, or rate differences applying to different taxpayers, such as tax-exempt bodies or tax loss companies.

Alternatively it can arise because the tax base is less than comprehensive, for example, because not all economic income is subject to income tax.

o An ability to exploit the difference in tax by converting high-tax activity into low-tax activity is required. If there are differences in tax rates, but no ability to move from high to low-tax, no arbitrage is possible.
o Even if these two conditions are met, this does not make tax arbitrage and avoidance possible. The tax system may mix high and low-rate taxpayers. The high-rate taxpayer may be able to divert income to a low-rate taxpayer or convert highly-taxed income into a lowly-taxed form. But this is pointless unless the high-rate taxpayer can be recompensed in a lowly-taxed form for diverting or converting his or her income into a low-tax category. The income must come back in a low-tax form. The benefit must also exceed the transaction costs. This is the third necessary condition for tax arbitrage.
o Since all tax systems have tax bases (The thing or amount to which a tax rate applies.

To collect income tax, for example, you need a meaningful definition of income. Definitions of the tax base can vary enormously, over time and among countries, especially when tax breaks are taken into account. As a result, a country with a comparatively high tax rate may not have a high tax burden (Total tax paid in a period as a proportion of total income in that period. It can refer to personal, corporate or national income. ) if it has a more narrowly defined tax base than other countries. In recent years, the political unpopularity of high tax rates has lead many governments to lower rates and at the same time broaden the tax base, often leaving the tax burden unchanged. )that are less than comprehensive because of the impossibility of defining and measuring all economic income, tax arbitrage and avoidance is inherent in tax systems. Examples of Tax Arbitrage/Avoidance The simplest form of arbitrage involves a family unit or a single taxpayer. If that family unit or taxpayer faces differences in tax rates (condition 1 above), and condition 2 above applies, then the third condition automatically holds.

This conclusion follows because people can always compensate themselves for converting or diverting income to a low tax rate. An example of such simple tax arbitrage involving a family unit is income splitting through, for example, the use of family trust. An example of simple tax arbitrage involving a single taxpayer is a straddle whereby a dealer in financial assets brings forward losses on, say shares, and defers gains while retaining an economic interest in the shares through use of options. Transfer pricing and thin capitalization practices through which non-residents minimize their tax liabilities are more sophisticated examples of the same principles. Multi-party arbitrage is more complex; the complexity is made necessary by the need to meet condition 3 above, that is, to ensure a net gain accrues to the high-rate taxpayer. In the simpler cases of multi-party income tax arbitrage, this process normally involves a tax-exempt (or tax-loss or tax-haven) entity and a taxpaying entity. Income is diverted to the tax-exempt entity and expenses are diverted to the taxpaying entity. Finally, the taxpaying entity is compensated for diverting income and assuming expenses by receiving non-taxable income or a non-taxable benefit, such as a capital gain.

Over the years many have indulged in numerous examples of such tax arbitrage using elements in the legislation at the time. Examples are finance leasing, non-recourse lending, tax-haven(a country or designated zone that has low or no taxes, or highly secretive banks and often a warm climate and sandy beaches, which make it attractive to foreigners bent on tax avoidance and evasion ) ‘investments’ and redeemable preference shares. Low-tax policies pursued by some countries in the hope of attracting international businesses and capital is called tax competition which can provide a rich ground for arbitrage. Economists usually favour competition in any form. But some say that tax competition is often a beggar-thy-neighbor policy, which can reduce another country’s tax base, or force it to change its mix of taxes, or stop it taxing in the way it would like.

Economists who favour tax competition often cite a 1956 article by Charles Tiebout (1924-68) entitled “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures”. In it he argued that, faced with a choice of different combinations of tax and government services, taxpayers will choose to locate where they get closest to the mixture they want. Variations in tax rates among different countries are good, because they give taxpayers more choice and thus more chance of being satisfied. This also puts pressure on governments to be efficient. Thus measures to harmonize taxes are a bad idea. There is at least one big caveat to this theory. Tiebout assumed, crucially, that taxpayers are highly mobile and able to move to wherever their preferred combination of taxes and benefits is on offer.

Tax competition may make it harder to redistribute from rich to poor through the tax system by allowing the rich to move to where taxes are not redistributive. Tactics Used by Tax Evaders Moonlighting Tax evasion at its simplest level merely involves staying out of the tax system altogether. The Revenue deploys small teams of volunteer officers to carry out surveillance to track down moonlighters. Early success was followed up by the deployment of compliance officers in virtually every tax office. Revenue Investigation Officers routinely scan advertisements in local newspapers or shop windows and even before the advent of the modern personal computer they frequently had access to reverse telephone directories to track down moonlighters from bare telephone number details. They also study bank and other financial institutions deposit and loans databases, customs records, and star class hotel bookings for private functions and ceremonies to identify rich individuals who maybe evading taxes.

Non Extractive Fraud Alternatively it can arise because the tax base is less than comprehensive, for example, because not all economic income is subject to income tax. ï?~ An ability to exploit the difference in tax by converting high-tax activity into low-tax activity is required. If there are differences in tax rates, but no ability to move from high to low-tax, no arbitrage is possible. ï?~ Even if these two conditions are met, this does not make tax arbitrage and avoidance possible. The tax system may mix high and low-rate taxpayers. The high-rate taxpayer may be able to divert income to a low-rate taxpayer or convert highly-taxed income into a lowly-taxed form. But this is pointless unless the high-rate taxpayer can be recompensed in a lowly-taxed form for diverting or converting his or her income into a low-tax category. The income must come back in a low-tax form. The benefit must also exceed the transaction costs. This is the third necessary condition for tax arbitrage. Since all tax systems have bases that are less than comprehensive because of the impossibility of defining and measuring all economic income, tax arbitrage and avoidance is inherent in tax systems. This involves profit switches or timing differences, for example:

o Post dating Receipts
o Ante dating Expenditure
o Hidden Reserves
o Incorrect accounting of transactions such as showing an income as a payable.
o Stock manipulation Perhaps the most common place method seen in practice is the manipulation of stock to produce the desired “profit”.

It is not unknown for the evaders’ Accountant to be involved – putting at risk the livelihood and, if the amount involved is significant, personal liberty! The most blatant case of this kind is where the Accountant virtually treated this as year end tax planning. Based upon the formal disclosures made by the evader under the Hansard procedure to the Inland Revenue (in which he implicated the Accountant and in connection with an account in a false name also his Bank Manager), the following scene can be recreated: “Studying the draft accounts the Accountant did a quick calculation to work out what range of figures could be used for closing stock in hand without giving rise to suspicion. He then apparently discussed with the client the impact on net profit of reducing Closing Stock.

Arrangements were then made for the audit to take place and in the meantime some stock was moved off site! “The Accountant and Bank Manager who assisted the evader are both guilty of conspiracy to defraud – it matters not that they made no financial gain themselves. Extractive Fraud This might take the form of Suppressed receipts or inflated outgoings: Suppressed Receipts Typically these involve defected mainstream takings and often an undisclosed bank account. However the more resourceful evader may take advantage of special arrangements or unexpected receipts: Where the proprietor or director personally deals with some customers it may be possible for cheques to be made out in a manner which facilitates diversion. Alternatively cheque substitution may be used, such that the otherwise “off record sale” cheque is banked and an equivalent amount of “on record cash” is extracted.

It is not unknown for late cash payment of credit sales to bypass the bookkeeping system with the debt subsequently being written off as bad. Unexpected receipts always present a good opportunity for deflection. For example:

1. Scrap sales
2. Insurance or bad debt recoveries
3. Refunds, rebates or discounts
4. Returned goods sold for cash, disposal of fully written down assets and windfalls in general.

The evader may take advantage of a new business opportunity, which remains hidden, and off record. Examples of this seen in practice include:

1. the dentist with three practices of which only two were discloses
2. the off record sale of hitherto obsolete car parts to the burgeoning classic car market Inflated Purchases & Expenses Where the ability to deflect receipts is too difficult the evader might draw cash from the business bank account and disguise such withdrawals as some form of legitimate business expense. In practice this often involves the use of “ghost” employees or fictitious outgoings to cover such extractions. Fictitious outgoings have to employ the use of false invoices. These might take the form of altered invoices, photocopied or even scanned “blanked” versions of genuine invoices, completely bogus invoices or even blank invoices supplied by an associate.

Another approach seen in practice involved the use of a seemingly unconnected off shore company to raise invoices for fictitious services. To hide the true ownership of the off shore company the evader uses a “black hole” trust to hold the shares. Essentially this involved a compliant non-resident trustee and “dummy” settler – the trustee providing “stooge” directors as part of the arrangements.

Employment Tax Evasion Schemes Employment tax evasion schemes can take a variety of forms. Some of the more prevalent methods of evasion include pyramiding, employee leasing, paying employees in cash, filing false payroll tax returns or failing to file payroll tax returns. Pyramiding “Pyramiding” of employment taxes is a fraudulent practice where a business withholds taxes from its employees but intentionally fails to remit them to the relevant departments. Businesses involved in pyramiding frequently file for bankruptcy to discharge the liabilities accrued and then start a new business under a different name and begin a new scheme. Employment Leasing Employee leasing is another legal business practice, which is sometimes subject to abuse.

Employee leasing is the practice of contracting with outside businesses to handle all administrative, personnel, and payroll concerns for employees. In some instances, employee-leasing companies fail to pay over to the authorities any portion of the collected employment taxes. These taxes are often spent by the owners on business or personal expenses. Often the company dissolves, leaving millions in employment taxes unpaid. Paying Employees in Cash Paying employees in whole or partially in cash is a common method of evading income and employment taxes resulting in lost tax revenue to the government and the loss or reduction of future social benefits. Filing False Payroll Tax Returns or Failing to File Payroll Tax Returns Preparing false payroll tax returns understating the amount of wages on which taxes are owed, or failing to file employment tax returns are methods commonly used to evade employment taxes. Payments of Benefits These include free benefits such as personal entertainment, excessive allowances for foreign travel, provision of educational schemes (foreign education) to only preferred employees, car and driver paid by company etc are simple examples.


I hope that I have made clear the difference between doing things right and legitimately and in a fraudulent manner. Whether you are a taxpayer or a consultant it is important to make sure that you understand the nuances of good tax planning. Whilst it is understood that tax planning is becoming more difficult and there is only a thin line between what is right and wrong it obviously requires the expert to do the needful. However be careful not to be tricked by those who claim to be experts in tax planning when they are mere computational experts.

General Tax Strategies and Principles For the Independent Minded Person

General Tax Strategies

Tax planning is highly dependent on where you live, but there are general strategies that apply to tax systems in many countries. Please check with the tax code that applies to you – there may be more than one. The mindset surrounding taxes is important in understanding what the motivation behind a tax is. Taxes should be treated as the ongoing cost of making money. They should always be accounted for prior to making an investment, taking on employment or forming a business. It is not what you earn in revenue that matters, it is what you get to keep net of all expenses – and this includes taxes. If you think in this format, you will know what to expect from your tax situation, and you will know if the activity you are undertaking is worthwhile. Going to work should also be viewed this way. Take note of how much money you get to keep after taxes. If you are getting a promotion, or choosing between two jobs, the one with the most income after all taxes and expenses should be the one you choose. This assumes that everything else about the two choices is the same, which is very rarely the case. The purpose of the prior statement is to raise awareness of strategic thinking when it comes to taxes. If you are going to take a contract job or run a business versus salaried employment, these choices become more important. The next paragraphs outline general concepts that would apply to most situations because they are fundamental to how a tax system is constructed.

Timing is Important

You will notice that taxes are always filed in annual periods, or quarterly periods if you report or pay quarterly. Notice as well that the more money you earn, the higher the percentage of tax you pay on that extra money you earn. This is what is called a “progressive tax system” which is how the Canadian tax code is constructed. If tax rates are flat over all incomes, meaning that the percentage of taxes paid are the same regardless of how much money you earn, this strategy would not apply in the same way. In a progressive system, timing is important because if you claim $100,000 in income in a single year, you will pay more taxes than claiming $100,000 in income spread over 2 years. If you have an option to claim income over more tax periods, you will pay fewer tax dollars.

Are you getting a tax refund? Using the idea of the annual period, whatever is deducted throughout the year is then matched with a calculation that is done at the end of the tax period. If you paid more throughout the period than you are required to pay, you would get a refund. If you pay less than the amount required, you would have to pay an additional payment when the end of the period arrives. If you are deducting a lot of taxes in advance, you would tend to get a refund. The downside is that you are not earning interest on the money. Interest rates are very low now, so this may not be worth thinking about, but as rates rise, giving the government money in advance will be more expensive. If you are a savvy investor, and you can invest these taxes for a portion of the year before remitting them to the government, this is income you would not have otherwise been able to generate. If you are paying an additional payment at the end of the year, you are holding onto your money longer. Other factors to consider on this topic are whether paying a larger tax payment at the end of the tax year is disruptive to your cash flow. If you are borrowing money to pay your taxes, this is an additional cost which is over and above your required tax payment.

RRSPs and Tax Timing

Registered Retirement Savings Plans and related accounts like the RESPs and RRIFs are tax timing vehicles. You would get a tax deduction upfront and pay taxes later – in the year that you take money out of the tax shelter. Keep in mind that your tax situation when you put money into the tax shelter can be different than when you take money out. The tax code itself may also be different at both times. This is hard to plan for, but it is usually assumed that taxes will rise as time goes by. The ideal scenario is to contribute to an RRSP when your income is at its highest, and withdraw it when your income is at its lowest. This would translate into the biggest deduction upon deposit, and smallest tax burden upon withdrawal. The frequency of your withdrawal can also affect how much taxes you pay within the tax year. The larger the lump sum withdrawals, the higher the rate of taxes charged upfront. When the tax year ends, the taxes payable will be adjusted to the same amount regardless of this initial deduction. Throughout the year however, you can either pay the tax man in advance, or pay the tax man more at year end. If you are able to generate return within the tax year, delay the tax payment as long as you can and generate that extra income.

Type of Income and Associated Risk is Important

The tax code in Canada generally looks at three types of income. These are income (working as an employee and interest earned on guaranteed securities fits here), dividends, and capital gains. These three buckets represent 3 different levels of risk, and so there are 3 different sets of rules for each. Generally speaking, the more risk of loss that you have in creating this income, the less taxes you will pay, and the more likely it is that you can offset losses with your gains. Another aspect of these rules is that tax treatment of income is generally limited to the year in which it was earned. Once the year is over, you cannot revisit the taxes paid unless there is some error or recalculation due to a retroactive tax code adjustment. This concept is true for dividends as well. Once they are earned in a specific year, you generally cannot offset taxes in future years. With capital gains however, you are able to adjust past tax returns and future tax returns by carrying gains or losses to other years and “smoothing out” the amount of taxes paid over your lifetime. This is allowed because in order to incur capital gains, you will likely also incur capital losses, and by not allowing you to offset these losses, you are being taxed in an unbalanced way. The tax rate itself is highest for income, lower for dividends, and lower still for capital gains. Take note that these concepts hold true if you are talking about working and living in the same country. Once you get into foreign jurisdictions (like US dividends from US companies being paid to a Canadian), the rules may change. If you are affected by this situation, ask your tax preparer specifically about the situation you are in. As an example, if you are a Canadian being taxed on U.S. dividends, ask about the tax treatment in this specific situation. A U.S. resident earning that same dividend and in the same income scenario would be paying a different amount of taxes. Each pair of countries that are relevant to a situation (the country you are a resident or citizen of, and the country where the income is generated) are the countries I would inquire about. The situation will be different for each set of countries, and would apply if you earn income in more than two tax jurisdictions.

Federal and Provincial Taxes Are Important

In Canada, there are federal taxes and provincial taxes. The provincial taxes are calculated as a percentage of the federal taxes, so it is harder to predict the effect of these taxes in total. The best way to know how much taxes you are paying is to look at your historical tax returns and look at the entire amount paid in taxes. Other ways to prepare for this situation are to use tax calculators or ask your tax preparer to estimate the combined effect. People tend to look at the federal rates but underestimate that there is also a provincial tax rate on top of that. Related to this idea, as you lower your taxable income, you will lower your federal taxes payable, and your provincial taxes payable. If your income is high, the provincial taxes will go up at a faster rate in a scenario where the provincial tax rates are progressive.

Tax Credits

If you are eligible for tax credits, use them as much as you can. These can change with every budget, and they sometimes expire – so an up to date source of tax information is highly advised here. Remember as well that governments issue tax credits to encourage investment in a sector, or change consumer buying patterns. When you see that the government is losing too much money from a credit, or the desired influence has largely been achieved, the credit will likely get modified or deleted. Make sure to look at the tax credit with respect to your whole tax situation. If you have to give up some other benefit to get the credit, or spend money you wouldn’t have otherwise spent, this credit may not be worthwhile. If you are spending money only to generate tax deductions because it is legal, examine whether you really need to spend this money. As an example, if you spend $100 to generate an expense, you will receive $30 in taxes back. If that $100 was not spent in the first place because you didn’t really need to spend it, you would keep $100 more. If you are spending $100 no matter what, and you are able to legally expense it, then you are saving that extra $30. Taxes should not drive your financial decisions for the most part, but they can take a situation that is generally neutral, and skew it to a desired outcome. As the person paying the taxes, you should consider whether you would make this transaction with and without the tax implications, and see which outcome works the best for you. This concept would apply to taxes in general, but especially to tax credits.

Tax Strategies Outside the Scope of the Tax Code

Be mindful of tax strategies that save taxes but are outside the scope of the tax code. These are not deemed illegal initially, but if they get too popular, the government may make an official statement that it does not recognize the tax strategy and it is therefore invalid. A good illustration of this scenario is the charity tax credits where people would give money to a charity and earn a greater return that what they contributed. The Canada Revenue Agency eventually shut down this idea as it was deemed abusive. Another example of this situation is the first years of the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA). There were issues surrounding transfers between the TFSA and the RRSP, and since specific conditions were not stipulated in the tax code, these transfers were assumed to be legal. It turned out that people were charged taxes in hindsight, and the issue was resolved by modifying the TFSA rules at later years. The safest thing to do in these cases is not to delve into these gray areas. If you believe in doing so, acknowledge that there risks and find a tax lawyer who has knowledge in the specific tax idea. Should you get audited or challenged in court, you will have the resources you need.

Running a Business and Taxes

Generally speaking, if you can operate a business versus working for an employer, having a business would allow you to deduct more expenses, and pay fewer taxes all else being equal. There are many implicit assumptions in this statement. The first one is that you can make the identical income at the same time frequency as working as an employee. If you don’t think you can generate income consistently, it may not be worth to have a business. The truth is that business income tends to be lumpy and unpredictable. The second one is the deductions. Small businesses pay fewer deductions and less EI, but would pay more in CPP. Insurance may cost more as well if you choose to have it as a business versus being an employee, since the employer subsidizes the insurance costs. Within this point is the assumption that you are running a business at home. Your home expenses would be partially deductible, leading to less tax paid. If you run your business from another location, you will incur more expenses, and the tax situation may be better or worse depending on the net effect of your revenue and expenses. The third point of clarification is that there are different tax rules between being a contractor and a small business. Lastly, the type of business is important. It is fairly simple to be a sole proprietor, but to incorporate involves different costs and commitments. Yes, the corporate tax rate is generally lower than for individuals. However, corporations take more time to operate, have setup costs, legal costs and reporting costs that sole proprietors don’t have. Corporations would also have separate HST numbers which is another layer of record keeping over and above that of a sole proprietor. Keep in mind that complexity in general involves more time and effort as well. To incorporate for legal reasons or strategic reasons is a whole other matter. Professionals should be consulted before considering forming a corporation.

Tax System, Rules And Rates In Albania 2012

Taxes in Albania are grouped into three main categories: indirect taxes (VAT, excise, gambling and other indirect taxes), direct taxes (income tax, personal income taxes, taxes on capital); local taxes, and social and health security contributions. These three categories are under authority like below:

National Taxes, administered by the Central Tax Administration and Customs Administration include:

Indirect taxes include: Value added tax; Excise; Taxes on gambling, casinos and hippodromes;

Direct taxes include: Income tax; National taxes; Other taxes, which are defined as such by special law, and Customs taxes.

Social and health security contributions, as defined in the social insurances law

Local taxes and tariffs administered by Local Tax Administration include: Local tax on small business; Tax on immovable property, which includes tax on buildings and agricultural land; Tax on hotel accommodation; Tax on impact of new constructions upon infrastructure; Tax on transfer of ownership right on real estate; Annual tax for vehicle registration; Tax for occupation of public space; Board tax; Temporary taxes; Registration tariff for various activities; Cleaning and waste disposal tariff; Vehicle parking tariff; Tariff for services.

How is going on the Taxation of commercial companies?
Each individual, who is a partner in a commercial company, is responsible for the company’s tax liabilities to the tax administration, according to provisions in the company charter. According to commercial registry, over 95 percent of companies are limited liability companies. The remainder is joint stock companies, partnerships and less than 0.5 percent is limited partnerships. At the moment a company is created and starts its economic activity, it is responsible for:

– Calculation of VAT and timely declaration and payment;
– Payment of advance tax installments for profit tax to pay every month;
– Calculation, timely declaration and payment of tax on incomes from employment for employers and employees;
– Calculation, timely declaration and payment of social and health insurances contributions;
– Monthly payment of advance income tax installments in time;
– Withholding and payment of withheld tax, under obligation from the Law On Income tax;
– Calculation, timely declaration and payment of taxes according to specific activity for gambling, casinos and hippodromes;
– Calculation, timely declaration and payment of excise under specific law;
– Calculation, timely declaration and payment of national taxes and local taxes.

In order to calculate taxes, taxpayers who are subject to VAT or profit tax keep registers, accounting records, books and financial information and issue tax receipt or tax coupon, in accordance with relevant laws and regulations pursuant to them. Taxpayers keep their accounts in accordance with provisions of the law “On accounting and financial statements” and act pursuant to that law in accordance with IFRS principles. In order to register economic transactions related to taxes, taxpayers can also use books, records or documents specified in specific tax laws and respective regulation provisions. Taxpayers are required to use basic documentation, including tax invoice, in accordance with tax legislation and relevant legal provisions.

What Tax exemption are applied?
Albania’s tax regime is considered by far one of the most important incentives for foreign investment as it is the lowest in Europe; however, the tax system as such does not discriminate against or in favor of foreign investors.

Likewise, legislation relating to the public procurement process makes little distinction between foreign and domestic companies, as many activities in Albania require licensing within the territory. The procedures for obtaining a license are, however, the same for national and foreign companies. The government to date has not screened foreign investments and provided little in the way of tax, financial or other special incentives.

The Value Added Tax
The majority of goods and services are subject to VAT at a standard rate of 20 per cent, although certain exemptions apply (such as for financial services, postal services, non-profit organization supplies, packaging and materials used in drug production, supplies of electronic and written media for advertising, supplies of services at casinos and hippodromes (race tracks), sales of newspapers, magazines and advertisement services in them, as well as certain hydrocarbon operations).

According to the instruction of the Minister of Finance (No. 17, 2008), the most significant incentives for investors in Albania are as follows:

– VAT credit at the rate of 100 per cent for importers of machinery and equipment which will serve entirely their taxable economic activity;
– exemption of VAT for export of international services;

The tax export regime can be considered a kind of investment incentive for both foreign and national entrepreneurs, and is applicable to all Albanian products destined for export outside the Albanian customs territory. The export VAT rate it is 0 per cent. Exporters can benefit from a VAT credit for purchases made on behalf of their exports.

Overall, if the tax credit for a taxation period is higher than the VAT applicable in that period, taxpayers have the right to use the credit surplus for the following taxable period. Taxable persons have the right to request a reimbursement of the credit surplus when they have a taxable credit amount over three months that is above 400,000 Albanian Leks. As stated above, and since they are essentially exporters, investors are entitled to VAT reimbursement on the purchase of domestic goods or raw materials when it is for production purposes.

The Corporate taxation
Definition of Residence
A company is considered resident in Albania if it has its legal seat or place of effective management in Albania. Further, partnerships and legal entities with a permanent establishment in Albania would be considered resident taxpayers. Residents must register with the National Registration Center (NRC).

Taxable Basis
Residents are taxed on their worldwide income; non residents are taxed only on their Albanian- source income.

Taxable income
Taxable income of residents includes business profits, as well as dividends, interest, and realized capital gains. Taxable profit is the difference between gross profit and related expenses. The determination of the taxable profit is generally based on the profits shown on the financial statements.

Tax income Rate
The rate of income tax is a flat tax of 10% as of January 1st, 2008.

Taxation of dividends received by residents
Dividend income is generally considered taxable income, unless the participation exemption or a double tax treaty relief is applicable.

Participation exemption: Resident companies – Dividends and distribution of earnings are excluded from a resident’s taxable profit when dividends and earnings are distributed from resident companies or partnerships which:

– are subject to corporate income tax; and
– the beneficiary resident’s shareholding comprises at least 25%, in value or number, of stock capital or voting rights, while for partnerships at least 25% of the initial capital.

However, if the recipient shareholder has ownership of less than 25% of the distributing company, the dividends are included in the taxable income of the recipient shareholder.

Participation exemption: nonresident companies – No participation exemption is in place for holding of foreign companies. Consequently, dividends received from foreign companies would be included in taxable income. Taxation of dividends paid to nonresidents – Dividend income distribution to a nonresident is subject to a withholding tax of 10%, unless a double tax treaty provides for a lower rate.

Capital gains
Realized capital gains are considered as taxable income and are taxed together with other income, at 10% on a net basis.

Losses can be carried forward for three consecutive years, unless there is a change of ownership of 25% of the company’s shares. Carry-back of losses is not permitted.

There’s no Surtax in Albania.

Alternative minimum tax

Reign tax credit
Double taxation is avoided through tax treaties. Albania currently has 25 treaties in effect with other countries.

Tax Treaties with Albania:
Poland (1995), Romania (1995), Malaysia (1995), Hungary (1996), Turkey (1997), Czech Republic (1997), Russian Federation (1998), Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.) (1999), Croatia (1999), Italy (2000), Bulgaria (2000), Sweden (2000), Norway (2000), Greece (2001), Malta (2001), Switzerland (2001), Moldova (2004), Belgium (2005), China (2006), France (2006), Netherlands (2006), Egypt (2006), Serbia and Montenegro (2006), Korea (2008), Austria (2009), and Latvia (2009).

Holding company regime
Tax Incentives
Occasional tax relief from Corporate Income
Tax is granted for selected projects on a case-by-case basis. These projects may include investments channeled to public services, infrastructure projects, as well as tourism and oil industries.

Withholding tax
Withholding tax is applicable to dividend, interest, and royalty payments, as well as certain other types of Albanian-source income earned by nonresidents.
Dividends are subject to a 10% withholding tax rate, unless the rate is reduced under an applicable tax treaty.

Interest is taxed at a 10% withholding tax rate, unless the rate is reduced under an applicable tax treaty.

Royalties are subject to a 10% withholding tax rate, unless the rate is reduced under an applicable tax treaty.

Other Albanian-source Income
A withholding tax of 10% is applicable to the gross amount of: a) technical service fees; b) management fees; c) payments for construction, installation, assembly or related supervisory work; d) rental payments; and e) payment for the performance of entertainment activities, which are made to nonresident taxpayers.

Filing Requirement
Withholding tax must be paid no later than the 20th day of the month following the month the remittance upon which the withholding tax is assessed. The payer of such amounts is responsible for retaining and paying the tax on the account of the tax authorities.

Branch remittance tax

Other taxes on corporations
Capital duty

Real property tax
Municipalities levy taxes based on the occupation of real property. A real estate tax on construction projects is levied on the value of a new investment at a rate of 2% to 4% in Tirana and 1% to 3% in other municipalities. Property tax is also applicable to agricultural land at rates varying from ALL 700 to ALL 5,600 per hectare, depending upon their use. A tax credit of 50% may be available for certain rural projects.

Beneficiary and Fiduciary Liability for Income, Gift and Estate Taxes

It can be either a blessing or a curse to be appointed as the Personal Representative of an estate or Trustee of a trust (collectively a “Fiduciary”). One of the most over looked aspects of the job is the fact that the U.S. Government has a “general tax lien” on all estate and trust property when a decedent leaves assessed and unpaid taxes and a “special tax lien” for estate taxes on a decedent’s death. As a result, when advising a Fiduciary on the estate and trust administration process it is important to inform them that with the responsibility also comes the potential for personal liability.

On many occasions a Fiduciary may be placed into a position where assets passing outside the probate estate (life insurance, jointly held property, retirement accounts, and pension plans) or trust, over which they have no control, constitute a substantial portion of the assets (real property, stocks, cash, etc.) subject to estate taxation. Without the ability to direct or assume control of the assets the Fiduciary may have both a liquidity problem and lack of means to satisfy the estates tax (income or estate) obligation. For this reason alone, a Fiduciary should be very reluctant to distribute any funds to a beneficiary before all statute of limitation periods expire for the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) to assess a tax deficiency.

Liability for Income and Estate Taxes:

Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §6012(b) holds a Fiduciary responsible for filing the decedent’s final income and estate tax returns. IRC §6903(a) further establishes a Fiduciary’s responsibility for representing the estate in all tax matters upon filing the required Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship (IRS Form 56). Under IRC §6321, when the tax is not paid an IRS lien will spring into being. When an estate or trust possesses insufficient assets to pay all its debts, federal law requires the Fiduciary to first satisfy any federal tax deficiencies before any other debt (31 U.S.C. §3713 and IRC §2002).

A Fiduciary who fails to abide by this requirement will subject themselves to personally liability for the amount of the unpaid tax deficiency (31 U.S.C. §3713(b)). An exception arises when an individual has obtained an interest in the property that would prevail over the federal tax lien under IRC §6323 (United States v. Estate of Romani, 523 U.S. 517 (1998)). When there are insufficient estate or trust assets to pay a federal tax obligation, as a result of the Fiduciary’s actions, the IRS may collect the tax obligation directly from the Fiduciary without regard to transferee liability (United States v. Whitney, 654 F.2d 607 (9th Cir. 1981)). If the IRS determines a Fiduciary to be personally liable for the tax deficiency it will be required to follow normal deficiency procedures in assessing and collecting the tax (IRC §6212).

Prerequisites for Fiduciary Liability:

Under IRC §3713, a Fiduciary will be held personally liable for a federal tax liability if the following conditions precedent are satisfied: (I) the U.S. Government must have a claim for taxes; (ii) the Fiduciary must have: (a) knowledge of the government’s claim or be placed on inquiry notice of the claim, and (b) paid a “debt” of the decedent or distributed assets to a beneficiary; (iii) the “debt” or distribution must have been paid at a time when the estate or trust was insolvent or the distribution created the insolvency; and (iv) the IRS must have filed a timely assessment against the fiduciary personally (United States v. Coppola, 85 F.3d 1015 (2d Cir. 1996)). For purposes of IRC §3713, the term “debt” includes the payment of: (I) hospital and medical bills; (ii) unsecured creditors; (iii) state income and inheritance taxes (conflict between U.S. Blakeman, 750 F. Supp. 216, 224 (N.D. Tex. 1990) and In Re Schmuckler’s Estate, 296 N.Y. 2d 202, 58 Misc. 2d 418 (1968)); (iv) a beneficiary’s distributive share of an estate or trust; and (v) the satisfaction of an elective share. In contrast, the term “debt” specifically excludes the payment of: (I) a creditor with a security interest; (ii) funeral expenses (Rev. Rul. 80-112, 1980-1 C.B. 306); (iii) administration expenses (court costs and reasonable fiduciary and attorney compensation) (In Re Estate of Funk, 849 N.E.2d 366 (2006)); (iv) family allowance (Schwartz v. Commissioner, 560 F.2d 311 (8th Cir. 1977)); and (v) a “homestead” interest (Estate of lgoe v. IRS, 717 S.W. 2d 524 (Mo. 1986)).

In order to collect the federal tax deficiency the IRS possesses the option to either file a lawsuit against the Fiduciary in federal district court, pursuant to IRC. §7402(a), or issue a notice of fiduciary liability under IRC § 6901(a)(1)(B and commence collection efforts. The statute of limitations for issuing a notice of fiduciary liability is the later of one year after the fiduciary liability arises or the expiration of the statute of limitations for collecting the underlying tax liability (IRC § 6901(c)(3)).

Before collection efforts can be started the IRS must first establish that the decedent’s estate or trust is insolvent (debts exceed the fair market value of assets) or possesses insufficient assets to pay the outstanding tax liability. “Insolvency” can only be established when the estate or trust possesses insufficient assets under the Fiduciary’s custody and control to satisfy the tax liability. With regard to non-probate or trust assets included in a decedents gross estate, IRC §2206-2207B empowers a Fiduciary to obtain from the beneficiary the portion of the estate tax attributable to those assets.

Preference Requirement and Knowledge of Outstanding Tax Obligations:

While the IRS may pursue collection of an estate tax deficiency from the beneficiaries, the Fiduciary will only retain a right of subrogation if the IRS elects to pursue collection of the tax deficiency against them. Under IRC §6324, the IRS may seek collection of the federal tax deficiency from the Fiduciary in possession of the assets on which the tax applied, not to exceed the value of the assets transferred to any beneficiary. However, if the Fiduciary had no knowledge of the debt, they will not be liable for more than the amount distributed to the beneficiaries or other creditors, or for taxes discovered subsequent to any distributions (Rev. Rul. 66-43, 1966-1 C.B. 291). Regardless of the circumstances, a Fiduciary’s failure to file a federal tax return will subject them to personal liability for the unpaid tax.

The burden of proof will then rest with the Fiduciary to prove their lack of knowledge of the unpaid tax (U.S. v. Bartlett, 2002-1 USTC ¶60,429. (C.D. Ill. 2002)). Once this element is established the burden will shift back to the IRS (Villes v. Comr., 233 F.2d 376 (6th Cir. 1956); Estate of Frost v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1993-94). If the liability pertains to income or gift taxes relating to years before the decedent’s death, a court may require the Fiduciary to have actual or constructive knowledge of the liability before holding them personally liable for the unpaid tax (U.S. v. Coppola, 85 F.3d 1015 (2d Cir. 1996)).

Statutes of Limitation:

Under IRC §6901 and §6501 the statutory period for assessing personal liability against a Fiduciary tracks the same as the underlying tax. The limitation period is: (I) three years from the date of a tax returns filing or the date the tax return is due (if filed early); (ii) six years if there is a substantial omission (25% or more) of gross income, gift or estate assets; or (iii) no limit if the IRS can prove fraud. Under IRC §6502(a), once the IRS makes a tax assessment it has ten (10) years to collect the tax.


A Fiduciary may only make a partial distribution to beneficiaries or creditors without concern of personal liability for estate tax deficiencies if sufficient assets are retained to pay all tax liabilities (including potential interest and penalties).

Income and Gift Taxes:

The first step requires the Fiduciary to file IRS Form 4506, Request for Copy or Transcript of Tax Form, with the IRS. The response received from the IRS will educate the Fiduciary as to which tax returns (income, gift, etc.), if any, were filed by the decedent prior to his or her death. The request should include the Fiduciary’s letters of administration, if applicable, and a Power of Attorney (IRS Form 2848).

To expedite the process, IRC § 6501(d) authorizes a Fiduciary to file IRS Form 4810, Request for Prompt Assessment, to request a prompt assessment and review of all tax returns filed by the decedent with the IRS. The Form 4810 must detail the following: (I) type of tax; (ii) tax periods covered; (iii) name, social security or EIN on each return; (iv) date the returns were filed; and (v) letters of administration or comparable authority to act on behalf of the estate or trust. Filing Form 4810 will shorten the statute of limitations period for the tax return from three years from the date of filing or due date of the return to eighteen (18) months from the date of its filing with the IRS. It is important to note that the shortened statute of limitations period will not apply to: (I) fraudulent tax returns; (ii) unfiled tax returns (IRC §6501(c)); (iii) any tax return with “substantial omissions” (IRC §6501(e)); or (iv) any tax assessment described in IRC §6501(c).

Once the decedent’s federal income tax return(s) has been filed with the IRS the Fiduciary may file a written application requesting release from personal liability for income and gift taxes. The IRS will then be limited to nine (9) months (the “notification period”) to notify the Fiduciary of any tax due. Under IRC §6905, upon expiration of the notification period, the Fiduciary will be discharged from personal liability for any tax deficiency thereafter found to be due and owing. The application should be filed with the IRS officer with whom the estate tax return was filed (or, if no estate tax return was required, to the IRS office where the decedent’s final income tax return was filed).

Estate Taxes:

A Fiduciary administering an insolvent estate or trust may also consider filing, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2410(a), a federal district court quiet title action against the U.S. Government. The District Court will only have jurisdiction to address procedural challenges and not the underlying IRS tax liability (Walker v. U.S. (N.J. 2-29-2008) and Robinson v. United States, 920 F.2d 1157 (3d Cir. 1990)). In Estate of Johnson v. U.S., 836 F.2d. 940 (5th Cir. 1988), a Texas fiduciary argued that he had a right to a quiet title action to determine if administration and funeral expenses had priority over federal tax liens. However, the Fiduciary should be cognizant that any quiet title court order may not protect them from an IRS assertion of personal liability under §3713(b).


Estate Taxes:

IRC §2204 authorizes a Fiduciary to submit a written request for discharge from personal liability from the federal estate tax. The IRS has nine months from the filing of the request, when filed after the estate tax return, to notify the Fiduciary of any estate tax due. Upon payment of the tax (the IRS will issue form 7990) and expiration of the nine-month period the Fiduciary will be discharged from personal liability for any estate tax deficiency. It is important to recognize that IRC §2204 only discharges the Fiduciary from personal liability and will not shorten the time for assessment of tax against the estate or any transferee of estate assets.

IRC §6903 provides that a judicial discharge is insufficient to relieve a Fiduciary of subsequent estate tax liabilities. Only the filing of IRS Form 56, Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship, informing the IRS of judicial discharge or other legal termination will terminate the Fiduciary duties. As a protective measure, most Fiduciary’s require beneficiaries to enter into separate agreements guaranteeing indemnification for any subsequent tax deficiencies in exchange for the distribution of the estate or trust’s assets to them.

Income and Gift Taxes:

IRC §6905 provides the method for a Fiduciary to be discharged from personal liability for income and gift taxes of a decedent. The Fiduciary will be required to make written application (filed after the tax return with respect to such tax is made) on IRS Form 5495 for release from personal liability. Upon payment of the tax or expiration of a nine-month period (if no notification is made by the Secretary during this period) after delivery of the application for release the Fiduciary will be: (I) discharged from personal liability for any deficiency in such tax thereafter found to be due; and (ii) entitled to a written acknowledgment (IRS Form 7990A for gift taxes) of such discharge.


Estate and Trust Taxes:

Every estate and trust beneficiary (heir, legatee, and devisee) must be appraised of their potential for personal liability for unpaid estate taxes under IRC §6901(a)(1) (probate estate) and §6324(a)(2) (non-probate assets included in the decedent’s gross taxable estate). Pursuant to IRC §6901, the liability of a transferee is similar to that of the transferor under §3713. A beneficiary’s transferee liability will be limited to the value of assets transferred to them (Commissioner v. Henderson’s Estate, 147 F.2d 619 (5th Cir. 1945)).

Gift Taxes:

Under IRC §2501, a donor (party making a gift) will bear primary responsibility for paying any tax liability associated with a gift. This will not preclude a donee, under IRC §6324, from being held liable for the applicable gift tax. Transferee liability will hold the donee personally liable for the applicable gift tax (the donor’s tax deficiency), up to the value of the gift, even if the gift received did not contribute to the unpaid gift tax liability (U.S. v. Botefuhr, 309 F.3d 1263 (10th Cir. 2002).

IRC § 6324 further provides that the tax lien shall remain in place for ten-years from the date the gifts are made. The liability will immediately arise once the donor fails to pay the applicable gift tax (Poinier v. Commissioner, 858 F.2d 917 (3d Cir. 1988)).


Under state law, a claim for federal taxes (income, estate or gift) will not be subject to state probate statutes or the requirement that a creditor claim be filed in probate proceedings (U.S. v. Stevenson, 2001-2 USTC 50,371 (M.D. Fla. 2001)). The IRS can provide notice of the tax liability to the fiduciary by sending Form 10492. The federal tax obligation will then receive preference over all other claims against and obligations (state inheritance taxes, and other expenses) of an estate (Rev. Rul. 79-310, 1979-2 C.B. 404). As a result, even if the IRS fails to file a claim against an estate, the Fiduciary should actively assert the U.S. Government’s priority under IRC §3713.

State Statutes:

State probate statutes may be utilized to protect a Fiduciary by limiting the circumstances under which they will be required to either pay or deliver a devise or distributive share to a beneficiary. In Florida, the limitations include: (I) not earlier than five (5) months after the granting of letters of administration; and (ii) compelled, prior to final distribution, to pay a devise in money, deliver specific personal property, unless the personal property is exempt personal property. Even then, unless the beneficiary establishes that the assets will not be required for the payment of estate and inheritance tax, a claim (debts, elective share, expenses of administration, etc.), provide funds for contribution, or to enforce equalization in case of advancements. If the administration of the estate is not completed before the entry of an order of partial distribution (devise, family allowance, or elective share) a court may require the beneficiary to post a bond with sureties and require them to make contribution, plus interest, if it is later determined that there are insufficient assets.

Homestead Property:

Federal tax law, accept as provided under IRC §6334, Property Exempt from Levy, will preempt state exempt property statutes and constitutional homestead protection laws. The preemption will allow the IRS to impose a federal tax lien or levy on personal assets of an estate or trust for collection (In Re Garcia, 1D02-0279 (Fla. App. 5 Dist. 2002) or homestead property (Busby v. IRS, 79 A.F.T.R. 2d 97-1493 (S.D. Fla. 1997)).

IRC Section 6331 permits the United States to collect taxes of a delinquent taxpayer by levy on all property and rights to property unless exempt under section IRC §6334. IRC §6334 specifically provides that a “principal residence shall not be exempt from levy if a judge or magistrate of a district court of the United States approves in writing) the levy of such residence.”

Under Florida law, a Fiduciary is also obligated to notify the county property appraiser of a decedent’s death and their property’s ineligibility for the homestead tax exemption. F.S. §193.155(9) provides that a Fiduciary’s failure could result in the assessment of penalties and interest. In addition, if the property was not entitled to a homestead property tax exemption, the statute provides for the imposition of: (I) a lien against the real property; and (ii) imposition of taxes, interest, and a penalty equal to fifty (50%) percent of the unpaid taxes resulting from the incorrect classification.