Whether and when personal injury settlements are taxable to their recipients represents one of the most important structured settlement legal issues. Both the Society of Settlement Planners (SSP) and the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) featured multiple tax presentations during their 2011 educational conferences.
At the SSP conference, Robert Wood and Jeremy Babener each separately addressed multiple settlement tax issues. Wood discussed: "468B Qualified Settlement Funds" (QSFs) and "Common Settlement Tax Mistakes and How to Fix Them". Babener's SSP presentation addressed three topics:
- Maximizing the medical expense deduction;
- Emotional distress and the medical care exception; and
- Inheritance of personal injury proceeds.
The NSSTA conference also featured a QSF presentation by Martin Jacobson titled "The Ins and Outs of 468B Funds". In addition, NSSTA's Legal Committee Update included a summary of a 2011 tax case, Espinoza v. Commissioner, plus an introduction to IRC Section 5891 as part of a discussion about the secondary structured settlement market.
Wood, who has written both a textbook and a Tax Management portfolio about QSFs, utilized case examples to explain several QSF issues: when is a QSF available; formation of a QSF; who should serve as QSF administrator; what are the QSF administrator's responsibilities; determining QSF income and deductions; information reporting responsibilities; amounts to report and forms to use; reporting of structured settlements; and terminating a QSF.
In his presentation about identifying and fixing settlement tax mistakes, Wood highlighted several issues: the need for professional tax computations; interest is always taxable; punitive damages; attorney fees; tax allocations; miscellaneous itemized deductions; above-the-line deductions; the unclear scope of section 104; sex abuse and wrongful imprisonment cases; the Murphy case; constructive receipt; employment disputes; Form 1099; as well as qualified and non-qualified structured settlements. For related writing by Wood, see the Wood & Porter website as well as S2KM's structured settlement public policy wiki.
Like Wood, Babener is both a prolific writer about settlement tax issues, as evidenced by Babener's website and related commentary appearing on S2KM's structured settlement public policy wiki, and a frequent speaker at educational conferences sponsored by SSP and the National Association of Settlement Purchasers (NASP). Also similar to Wood, Babener's SSP presentation and handouts utilized case examples (as well as tables) to help communicate his analysis. Equally appropriate for their audience, both Wood and Babener emphasized settlement tax planning and incorporated structured settlements into their discussions.
Jacobson's QSF discussion at the NSSTA conference specifically addressed the single claimant issue. Jacobson focused his analysis on the statutory language of IRC 468B, related Treasury Regulation 1.468B-1(c) and related Revenue Procedure 93-34.
- Treasury Regulation 1.468B-1(c) requires and permits a QSF to be "established to resolve or satisfy one or more contested or uncontested claims that have resulted or may result from an event (or related series of events) that has occurred and that has given rise to at least one claim asserting liability ..." (emphasis added).
- Revenue Procedure 93-34 sets forth the rules under which a QSF will be considered a "party to the suit or agreement" for purposes of Section 130 and includes a stipulation that all Section 130 requirements still apply (emphasis added).
Jacobson highlighted the issue of whether Revenue Procedure 93-34 means that constructive receipt and economic benefit apply to single claimant QSF-funded Section 130 Qualified Assignments. For purposes of the single claimant QSF issue, Jacobson identified what he termed "the real questions":
- Does a single claimant have economic benefit of the funds placed in the QSF?
- Does the single claimant have "unqualified availability" of those funds?
- Has IRC Section 130(c) been satisfied?
- Is there going to be an IRS ruling applicable to single claimant QSFs?
- In the continuing absence of such an IRS ruling, Jacobson quoted Robert Wood's recommendation to "avoid the single claimant controversy" by establishing QSFs with multiple claimants.
With deference to Martin Jacobson for his valuable presentation and gratitude that NSSTA's educational programs have begun to address important and controversial industry issues, S2KM suggests these additional "real questions" concerning single claimant QSFs:
- Why haven't any NSSTA or SSP members applied for one or more IRS rulings applicable to single claimant QSFs?
- For example, what constitutes "multiple claimants" for purposes of QSFs - multiple family members as claimants? government liens? a plaintiff attorney's compensation claim?
- Does public policy favor or not favor single claimant QSFs? If not, why not?
- As Jeremy Babener addresses in his important QSF paper, how far has existing federal legislation eroded the applicability of the constructive receipt and economic benefit tax doctrines to structured settlements:
- Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988 - allowing "secured creditor status"; and
- Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act of 2001 - allowing transfers of payment rights ("factoring") pursuant to state protection statutes.
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