Valuation Discount Strategies

Across the board, valuation matters. Contemporaneous appraisals can be worth a lot. Retrospective appraisals — done after the fact and purporting to express value as of a date in the past — are never as persuasive as appraisals done contemporaneously.

Oftentimes, proper planning is about the ability to offer proper proof. That’s my primary take-away lesson from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the case of Estate of Petter v. Commissioner, as assessed in a recent Forbes article.

As many of you appreciate, when giving away assets it is important to get the most bang for your buck and that can be achieved by generating “discounts.” This was the plan of Ms. Petter when she transferred $22 million of UPS stock to a limited liability company (LLC) and then gave or sold units of the LLC to her heirs. Note: An LLC can help diffuse ownership and effectively transform the taxable value of the underlying assets.

This transformation of value hinges on the “marketability” of the interests held by the LLC members and their degree of “control” over the assets. As a result, the lack of marketability and control makes the interests held by the LLC members less valuable. Accordingly, such interests are “worth less” than the face value of the underlying assets and their value inside the LLC may be “discounted.” Such was the case with the LLC established by Ms. Petter.

Ms. Petter claimed a whopping 51% discount on the underlying assets of the LLC. Unfortunately, she was unable to support this discounted value and the IRS rejected that figure and approved a far more conservative discount of 36%.

Not to be defeated, Ms. Petter tried another approach. She built a provision into her planning that were there a valuation dispute with the IRS, then any discounted percentage denied would automatically go to her chosen charity… instead of to her estate or an heir. Why? She wanted to avoid any gift or estate taxes. Naturally, the IRS challenged this fall back position, but the Ninth Circuit upheld it.

Reference: Forbes (September 30, 2011) “Fancy Appraisals Can Defeat IRS

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