Our clients usually have one thing in common: their success has created a problem. They’ve outstripped the abilities of their current tax and legal team.
We think the case of one of our favorite clients “Roger” demonstrates why we can be so essential.
Roger owns a home goods manufacturing plant in Indiana. When he started out he claims he “had no idea” what he was doing. But his customers disagreed. His business went from sales of $35,000 in 1992 to $35 million in 2018 in a very specialty niche. Roger thought he did the right thing in hiring his tax team, but they didn’t notice a huge problem. Roger was a genius at innovating new products his customers demanded, not so good at making sure all the details were taken care of.
One of the biggest problems: Roger’s bookkeeper was embezzling money and his accounting team never caught it. This lead to Roger going down another rabbit hole as he struggled to figure out what happened and to find some sort of asset protection plan as lawsuits started to pile up. The plan was overly elaborate and difficult to execute. So much so that Roger ignored the formalities, thereby nullifying the asset protection plan should it ever have been chal-lenged.
He was trying his best to get staffed up to handle his growing business and to take care of mis-takes, but he could never seem to get on top. He actually missed filing several tax returns.
Eventually his businesses were audited — not because he didn’t file returns, but because his name popped up on a list the IRS Criminal Investigations got from a Swiss Bank information exchange. Having an offshore trust was part of the elaborate asset protection scheme he was sold on. And that’s when Roger realized he had a huge problem and it was time to give us a call.
We flew out to meet him at his factory. Lawsuits, theft, and now IRS issues. Roger wondered if this was all worth it. He started doubting if going into business for himself was a good idea.
We first contacted the IRS explaining that the offshore trusts were not at all intended to evade taxes, but rather for asset protection. Luckily, Roger did hire a firm in Los Angeles who handled is trust reporting obligations. And to our pleasant surprise, the forms -which are rather compli-cated - were filed correctly, although the IRS examiner who was rather new to international tax-es was initially confused.
After that we explained how important it was to get him back into current compliance. Too many tax practitioners focus solely on old tax problems, neglecting the obligations of today. We explained to Roger that getting into current compliance is perhaps the quickest way to avoid any escalations.
And as we got Roger into current compliance, we noticed that change in tone from the IRS au-ditor. She really began to understand that Roger wasn’t trying anything shady — rather Roger was victimized by unethical employees and tax professionals just not up to the task.
With this, we filed all missing returns; while we had some disputes with the auditor we were able to work out in appeals, we were able to get the bill down to something manageable that allows Roger to continue his business growth.
Now with his old problems out of the way, we looked forward — we asked Roger what his plan was for the future. Does he plan on his children taking over the business or does he want to be acquired? Roger said he was wanted to eventually be acquired. And with that, we began work both on preparing for the tax consequences of an acquisition as well as how to increase the valuation of Roger’s business.
Additionally, we advised him it was time to get a real asset protection plan. Not some Rube Goldberg that creates more harm than good. We worked with our Captive Insurance partners to step Roger up with his own Captive Insurance Company that insured all the risks of his busi-ness. He found it much easier — and honestly Roger was more comfortable with insurance. He is one of those guys who takes care of everyone. If someone is hurt and he was responsible, Roger would want that person to be compensated. With his own Captive Insurance Company, Roger says he feels much better. He knows that if something bad happens, it simply won’t af-fect his bottom line and he will remain a well-respected member of his community.
And one more thing: Roger was not exactly unhappy with the approximately $300,000 in tax savings his Captive Insurance ownership provided.
The bottom line is we enjoy helping real people who have big dreams.
Marek was told by both lawyers at large tax firm and CPAs at “Big Four” accounting firm that he had no choice but to make a full Offshore Voluntary Disclosure because he has unreported assets and income overseas. Both firms estimated the fees would be around one million dollars. Both firms warned that Market would owe around $8 million in back taxes and penalties.
Marek flew in to meet us for a second opinion. After discussing the fact with him, we found the full Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to be inappropriate as Marek had no specific intent to commit tax evasion, nor was it likely that there was any evidence that could contradict our claim. True, Marek made some mistakes on what he thought was taxable and his previous tax preparer was fairly clueless about international compliance.
This is not to say the case did not have problems. Marek used shell companies and also foreign banks that were known to be involved in questionable transactions. But still, Make himself was blameless. So we explained that the Streamlined Disclosure was much more beneficial, but it did carry risks of the IRS decided to examine the disclosure.
Additionally, with the Streamlined Disclosure and a very unique application of a little-known exception to foreign income tax rules, we were able to reduce that $7 million tax bill to $1 million - saving Marek the rest of his fortune.
The big question mark - would the IRS examine his disclosure? Even though our position was solid, audits are costly both in money and in emotional energy.
With the three year statute of limitations having expired in 2017, our executed plan proved to work out impeccably:
- We saved Marek $ 6 million in taxes and penalties
- Saved $750,000 in legal and accounting fees
- Marek got into compliance; no more worries about the IRS, he able to get back to business.
Stefanie called our office about a very simple question he had about a foreign inheritance that she received the previous year from her aunt in Germany. There were no taxes due, but there was a missing Form 3520 that could carry substantial penalties if not filed correctly. Stefanie asked us to complete it for her. While we were researching her inheritance, we saw that an uncle of hers was a partner with her father - they owned a substantial real estate portfolio in the US. We asked Stephanie if her father and uncle were US persons -were they citizens, Green Card holders or in the US on a visa. She said her father had a H1-B visa years ago, but as far as she knows, he is a Swiss citizen only and her uncle is a German citizen only.
We explained that with his current structure that the real estate would be subject to an estate tax that is entirely different than the estate tax most Americans are familiar with. We explained that there is an estate tax on US property owned non-US persons. And that only the first $60,000 or so is exempt. Meaning, we calculated a potential estate tax liability of $4.3 million when her father and uncle pass. But that something could be done about this.
Stefanie was understandable concerned as she was the sole heir of both her father and uncle’s estate. This would be $4.3 million less she would be getting.
Stefanie asked us to speak with her father and uncle. We explained that there is a solid structure we can put in place to eliminate this foreign estate tax that would merely add a few thousand dollars in compliance costs per year.
Stefanie, her father and uncle were ecstatic we took the extra time to find a risk they weren’t aware of an implemented a strategy to eliminate the risk of a unexpected estate tax bill.