FBAR Penalties Survive Taxpayer’s Death – What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations

FBAR Penalties Survive Taxpayer’s Death – What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations

In recent years the IRS has made the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) penalty enforcement a top priority and this is alarming the taxpayers worldwide. Even in the course of every routine domestic IRS audit, IRS agents are looking for undisclosed foreign bank accounts.

Death Of A Taxpayer Does Not Terminate FBAR Penalties 

A Federal district court held that the IRS could recover unpaid financial penalties imposed on a taxpayer, who subsequently died, for willfully failing to timely file accurate FAR’s (formerly Forms TDF 90-22.1, now FinCEN Form 114) for years 2010 and 2011. U.S. v. Green, 2020 PTC 137 (S.D. Fla. 2020).  The court rejected arguments by the taxpayer’s children that the FBAR penalties abated upon the taxpayer’s death and stated that granting a windfall to estates of violators of the FBAR requirements because the violator suffered the paradoxical fortune and misfortune of passing away after the violation occurred and before the government filed suit against him for FBAR violations contradicts the remedial purpose of the FBAR filing requirements.

What You Must Know About IRS FBAR Penalty Negotiations:

  1. The penalties for noncompliance in FBAR enforcement are staggering.

FBAR penalties can be unfair as the penalties are based on the account size and not on how much tax you avoided. This is a stark contrast to other IRS penalties which are based on how much additional tax is owed.  Given this difference you will always have a bigger risk and more to lose when dealing with FBAR penalties.

  1. The two types of FBAR penalties.

The “get off gently FBAR penalty” – If the IRS feels that you made an innocent mistake and “not willfully” ignored to file your FBAR, your “get off gently penalty” will be $10,000 per overseas account per year not reported. To illustrate, if you have five foreign accounts that you failed to report on your FBAR in each of five years, the IRS can penalize you $250,000 regardless of whether you even have that amount sitting in your foreign accounts.

The “disastrous FBAR penalty” – If the IRS can show that you “intentionally” avoided filing your FBAR’s, your minimum “disastrous FBAR penalty” will be 50% of your account value.   Additionally, the IRS may also press for criminal charges and if convicted of a willful violation, this can also lead to jail time. The “disastrous FBAR penalty” can also be assessed multiple times thus wiping out your entire savings. 

  1. The taxpayer’s burden of proving “reasonable cause”

You are obligated to pay the penalty the IRS deems necessary. The IRS can assume the “disastrous FBAR penalty” and they are not required to prove willfulness. It will be the taxpayer that bears the heavy burden of proving that the taxpayer’s failure to comply was due to reasonable cause and not from “willful neglect”. 

  1. Your appeal option.

Having exhausted all administrative remedies within the IRS first, you can then appeal the proposed FBAR penalties to a Federal District Court but for that court to have jurisdiction you must pay the assessments in full and then sue the IRS in a district court for refund. Since coming up with the money may be impossible for most taxpayers, consider hiring an experienced tax attorney to make the most of the IRS appeals process and perhaps avoid the need for litigation.  Keep in mind that in the appeals process, you do not have to pay any FBAR penalty until the end. Second, you can be successful if IRS remedies itself thus making court filings unnecessary. And third, even if the administrative remedies do not yield you success, your tax attorney can attempt to negotiate with the IRS to lower your FBAR penalties without going for a trial. 

  1. The Voluntary Disclosure Route.

The streamlined filing compliance procedures are available to taxpayers certifying that their failure to report foreign financial assets and pay all tax due in respect of those assets did not result from willful conduct on their part. The streamlined procedures are designed to provide to taxpayers in such situations (1) a streamlined procedure for filing amended or delinquent returns and (2) terms for resolving their tax and penalty obligations.

Taxpayers will be required to certify that the failure to report all income, pay all tax, and submit all required information returns, including FBARs (FinCEN Form 114, previously Form TD F 90-22.1), was due to non-willful conduct.

If the IRS has initiated a civil examination of a taxpayer’s returns for any taxable year, regardless of whether the examination relates to undisclosed foreign financial assets, the taxpayer will not be eligible to use the streamlined procedures. Similarly, a taxpayer under criminal investigation by IRS Criminal Investigation is also ineligible to use the streamlined procedures.

Taxpayers eligible to use the streamlined procedures who have previously filed delinquent or amended returns in an attempt to address U.S. tax and information reporting obligations with respect to foreign financial assets (so-called “quiet disclosures”) may still use the streamlined procedures.

What Should You Do?

If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns, you should seriously consider making a voluntary disclosure to the IRS. Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Diego County (Carlsbad) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income. Also if you are involved in cannabis, check out what a cannabis tax attorney can do for you.  And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

Global Tax Chiefs Meet To Tackle International Tax Evasion

Global Tax Chiefs Meet To Tackle International Tax Evasion

The Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement, known as the J5, which was formed in mid-2018 to lead the fight against international tax crime and money laundering met this week. This group brings together leaders of tax enforcement authorities from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands.

These tax authorities believe that people may be using a sophisticated system to conceal and transfer wealth anonymously to evade their tax obligations and launder the proceeds of crime.

The IRS announced that significant information was obtained as a result and investigations are ongoing. It is expected that further criminal, civil and regulatory action will arise from these actions in each country.

For the United States: Don Fort, U.S. Chief, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, stated:

This is the first coordinated set of enforcement actions undertaken on a global scale by the J5 – the first of many. Working with the J5 countries who all have the same goal, we are able to broaden our reach, speed up our investigations and have an exponentially larger impact on global tax administration. Tax cheats in the US and abroad should be on notice that their days of non-compliance are over.”

Penalties for Non-Compliance.

Federal tax law requires U.S. taxpayers to pay taxes on all income earned worldwide. U.S. taxpayers must also report foreign financial accounts if the total value of the accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Willful failure to report a foreign account can result in a fine of up to 50% of the amount in the account at the time of the violation and may even result in the IRS filing criminal charges.

Civil Fraud – If your failure to file is due to fraud, the penalty is 15% for each month or part of a month that your return is late, up to a maximum of 75%.

Criminal Fraud – Any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).

The term “willfully” has been interpreted to require a specific intent to violate the law (U.S. v. Pomponio, 429 U.S. 10 (1976)). The term “willfulness” is defined as the voluntary, intentional violation of a known legal duty (Cheek v. U.S., 498 U.S. 192 (1991)).

Additionally, the penalties for FinCEN Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) noncompliance are stiffer than the civil tax penalties ordinarily imposed for delinquent taxes. For non-willful violations, it is $10,000.00 per account per year going back as far as six years. For willful violations, the penalties for noncompliance which the government may impose include a fine of not more than $500,000 and imprisonment of not more than five years, for failure to file a report, supply information, and for filing a false or fraudulent report.

Lastly, failing to file Form 8938 when required could result in a $10,000 penalty, with an additional penalty up to $50,000 for continued failure to file after IRS notification. A 40% penalty on any understatement of tax attributable to non-disclosed assets can also be imposed.

Voluntary Disclosure

Since September 28, 2018, the IRS discontinued the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP); however, on November 20, 2018 the IRS issued guidelines by which taxpayers with undisclosed foreign bank account and unreported foreign income can still come forward with a voluntary disclosure.   The voluntary disclosure program is specifically designed for taxpayers with exposure to potential criminal liability and/or substantial civil penalties due to a willful failure to report foreign financial assets or foreign in income. In general, voluntary disclosures will include a six-year disclosure period. The disclosure period will require examinations of the most recent six tax years so taxpayers must submit all required returns and reports for the disclosure period. Click here for more information on available Voluntary Disclosure Programs.

What Should You Do?

Recent closure and liquidation of foreign accounts will not remove your exposure for non-disclosure as the IRS will be securing bank information for the last eight years. Additionally, as a result of the account closure and distribution of funds being reported in normal banking channels, this will elevate your chances of being selected for investigation by the IRS. For those taxpayers who have submitted delinquent FBAR’s and amended tax returns without applying for amnesty (referred to as a “quiet disclosure”), the IRS has blocked the processing of these returns and flagged these taxpayers for further investigation. You should also expect that the IRS will use such conduct to show willfulness by the taxpayer to justify the maximum punishment.

We encourage taxpayers who are concerned about their undisclosed offshore accounts to come in voluntarily before learning that the U.S. is investigating the bank or banks where they hold accounts. By then, it will be too late to avoid criminal prosecution or programs with reduced civil penalties. Protect yourself from excessive fines and possible jail time. Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and elsewhere in California help ensure that you are in compliance with federal tax laws. Additionally, if you are involved in cannabis, check out what a cannabis tax attorney can do for you. And if you are involved in crypto currency, check out what a bitcoin tax attorney can do for you.

I need to report foreign income? FBAR

Federal Court Of Appeals For The Third Circuit Clarifies Standard for Proving a “Willful” FBAR Violation

Federal Court Of Appeals For The Third Circuit Clarifies Standard for Proving a “Willful” FBAR Violation

Not much has come out of the Courts defining that line between nonwillful and willful when it comes to not filing Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Reports (“FBAR”) but now we have a recent U.S. Federal Circuit Of Appeals case out of the Third District which has vast repercussions on anyone who has undisclosed foreign bank accounts regardless of whether they came forward in a Voluntary Disclosure Program or the Streamlined Procedures.

Bedrosian v. U.S.

In December 2018 the Federal Circuit Court Of Appeals for the Third District (the “Appeals Court”), Bedrosian v. U.S., 2018 PTC 427 (3rd Cir. 2018), on an appeal by the IRS issued its opinion determining that the taxpayer’s failure to timely file an FBAR was nonwillful. The tax law provides that U.S. citizens with accounts outside the U.S. must disclose those accounts on an FBAR if the aggregate amount is at least $10,000. 31 U.S.C. 5314. The reason the term “willful” is important is that if the failure is not willful, the penalty is set at $10,000 per violation but if the failure to disclose is considered “willful”, the penalty goes up to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the highest account value for the year.

In the case of Arthur Bedrosian the IRS in January 2015 assessed a willful FBAR penalty for tax year 2007 of approximately $975,000, which was 50% of the undisclosed account. Mr. Bedrosian paid 1% of the penalty and then sued in Federal District Court to recover the payment as an unlawful exaction. The government counterclaimed for the full penalty amount plus interest and a late payment penalty.

Facts

Mr. Bedrosian worked in the pharmaceutical industry eventually rising to the level of CEO at Lannett Company, Inc., a company that manufactures generic medications. He had to travel abroad for business and so for convenience by 1973 had established a bank account with Swiss Credit Corporation in Switzerland (now UBS) by which he could access funds instead of paying for expenses with traveler’s checks. Eventually he started using it as a savings account and in 2005 he was approached by the bank representatives who offered him 750,000 Swiss Francs if he converts his account into an investment account. Mr. Bedrosian agreed and as a result of this transaction, another account was created under his name.

It was not until tax year 2007 that Mr. Bedrosian included, for the first time, an affirmative answer to the question on his Form 1040 Schedule B asking whether “[a]t any time during 2007, [he had] an interest in or signature or other authority over a financial account in a foreign country.” He listed Switzerland as the country. He also filed an FBAR for the first time in which he reported the existence of one of the two UBS accounts.

The IRS notified Mr. Bedrosian in April 2011 that it would be auditing his returns and he was cooperative and forthcoming in his dealings with the IRS. In the results of the audit, the IRS assessed a willful FBAR penalty for tax year 2007 of just under $1 million.

When the case was first heard by the Federal District Court, the only disputed issue was whether Mr. Bedrosian’s failure to disclose his $2 million UBS account was willful. In that case as reported in Bedrosian v. U.S., 2017 PTC 431 (E.D. Pa. 2017), the district court concluded that the IRS had failed to establish Mr. Bedrosian’s willfulness. The government appealed to the Third Circuit, arguing that the district court used an incorrect legal standard for willfulness, placed too much weight on Mr. Bedrosian’s subjective motivations, and erred in finding that Mr. Bedrosian did not know he owned a second foreign bank account.

Court’s Analysis

The Court Of Appeals stated that to prove a “willful” violation with respect to the filing of an FBAR, the IRS must satisfy the civil willfulness standard, which includes both knowing and reckless conduct.

In its analysis of “willfulness,” the court considered the taxpayers’ behaviors in U.S. v. Williams, 489 Fed. Appx. 655 (4th Cir. 2012), and U.S. v. McBride, 908 F. Supp. 2d 1186 (D. Utah 2012). The court noted that unlike those taxpayers, who continued to submit inaccurate FBARs even after being targets of government investigation, or who repeatedly lied and refused to produce requested documents, Mr. Bedrosian was cooperative with the IRS during the audit process.

Upon the IRS’ urging to consider “willfulness” outside of the FBAR context, the court also reviewed Greenberg vs. U.S., 46 F.3d 239 (3d Cir. 1994). There the court had considered whether a party had willfully failed to pay certain employer withholding taxes. It was determined that willfulness depended on the individual’s knowledge that his company had not paid the taxes at the time he paid company funds to the employees and other suppliers.

Although the court here agreed that Mr. Bedrosian should have been more careful about reviewing the 2007 FBAR and in being aware of the fact that he had not one but two accounts at UBS, the court determined that it was not apparent that he submitted it knowing that it omitted the second UBS account.

Significantly, the court summarized that the only evidence supporting a finding that Mr. Bedrosian’s violation was “willful” was: (1) the inaccurate form itself, lacking reference to the second account, (2) the fact that he may have learned of the second account’s existence at one of his meetings with a UBS representative, (3) his sophistication as a businessman, and (4) his accountant’s statement to him in the mid-1990s that he was breaking the law. The court concluded that “none of these indicate ‘conduct meant to conceal or mislead’ or a ‘conscious effort to avoid learning about reporting requirements,’ even if they may show negligence”.

Accordingly the Third Circuit then remanded the case for the district court affirming that Mr. Bedrosian did not act willfully in failing to disclose the second UBS account in his 2007 FBAR filing.

What Should You Do?

Taxpayers who have entered into the Streamlined Program whose case is weak on showing nonwilfullness have a huge risk of being picked by IRS and losing the favorable status offered by the Streamlined Procedures where the IRS feels that the non-willful standard is not met.  Such taxpayers will not then be able to enter into a voluntary disclosure program and can face the same battle as Mr. Bedrosian.  Likewise, anyone who has not come forward in voluntary disclosure and the issue of nonwilfullness is questionable would still have the opportunity to come forward under a voluntary disclosure program.  Keep in mind that any submission must be complete or else like Mr. Bedrosian, the IRS will reject the settlement and look to assess the full penalties provided by law. Let the tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and offices elsewhere in California get you set up with a plan that may include being qualified into a voluntary disclosure program to avoid criminal prosecution, seek abatement of penalties, and minimize your tax liability. Also, if you are involved in cannabis, check out how our cannabis tax attorneys can help you.

IRS Now Targeting Taxpayers With Unreported Foreign Income And Undisclosed Foreign Bank Accounts

IRS Targeting Taxpayers With Unreported Foreign Income And Undisclosed Foreign Bank Accounts

IRS offshore cannabis bitcoin investigation

IRS Establishes New Criminal Investigation Group Using Big Data Analytics to Crack Down on Offshore, Bitcoin and Cannabis Tax Evasion

Why Taxpayers Involved In Offshore Accounts, Crypto Currency Or Cannabis Should Be Filing An Extension For Their 2017 Income Tax Returns

Why Taxpayers Involved In Offshore Accounts, Crypto-Currency Or Cannabis Should Be Filing An Extension For Their 2017 Income Tax Returns

The Door Is Closing – IRS To End Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets are urged to come forward before the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) closes September 28, 2018.

The IRS announced on March 13, 2018 that it will begin to ramp down the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) and close the program on September 28, 2018. In a statement made by Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter, “Taxpayers have had several years to come into compliance with U.S. tax laws under this program. All along, we have been clear that we would close the program at the appropriate time, and we have reached that point. Those who still wish to come forward have time to do so.”

OVDP enables U.S. taxpayers to voluntarily resolve past non-compliance related to unreported foreign financial assets and failure to file foreign information returns. Since OVDP’s initial launch in 2009, more than 56,000 taxpayers have come forward to avoid criminal prosecution and secure lesser penalties than what the law provides. The IRS reports that through OVDP, they have collected $11.1 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties. The number of taxpayer disclosures under the OVDP peaked in 2011, when about 18,000 people came forward. The number steadily declined through the years, falling to only 600 disclosures in 2017. This decrease is not surprising given that many people have already come forward to secure the benefits of OVDP seeing the success of the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) and the ongoing efforts of the IRS and the Department of Justice to ensure compliance by those with U.S. tax obligations with respect to undisclosed foreign financial assets and unreported foreign income. 

Tax Enforcement Continues

Stopping offshore tax noncompliance remains a top priority of the IRS. Don Fort, Chief, IRS Criminal Investigation stated that the IRS will continue ferreting out the identities of those with undisclosed foreign accounts with the use of information resources and increased data analytics. Since 2009, the IRS Criminal Investigation has indicted 1,545 taxpayers on criminal violations related to international activities, of which 671 taxpayers were indicted on international criminal tax violations.

Where a taxpayer does not come forward into OVDP and has now been targeted by IRS for failing to file FBAR’s, the IRS may now assert FBAR penalties that could be either non-willful or willful.  Both types have varying upper limits, but no floor.  The first type is the non-willful FBAR penalty.  The maximum non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000.  The second type is the willful FBAR penalty.  The maximum willful FBAR penalty is the greater of (a) $100,000 or (b) 50% of the total balance of the foreign account.  In addition the IRS can pursue criminal charges with the willful FBAR penalty. The law defines that any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax under the Internal Revenue Code or the payment thereof is, in addition to other penalties provided by law, guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, can be fined not more than $100,000 ($500,000 in the case of a corporation), or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution (Code Sec. 7201).

For the non-willful penalty, all the IRS has to show is that an FBAR was not filed.  Whether the taxpayer knew or did not know about the filing of this form is irrelevant.  The non-willful FBAR penalty is $10,000 per account, per year and so a taxpayer with multiple accounts over multiple years can end up with a huge penalty.

Streamlined Procedures and Other Options

A separate program, the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, for taxpayers who might not have been aware of their filing obligations, has helped about 65,000 additional taxpayers come into compliance. The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures will remain in place and available to eligible taxpayers. Additionally, eligible taxpayers can qualify for relief under the Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures or Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures.

What Should You Do?

Don’t let another deadline slip by! If you have never reported your foreign investments on your U.S. Tax Returns or even if you have already quietly disclosed you should seriously consider participating in the IRS’ 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”). Once the IRS contacts you, you cannot get into this program and would be subject to the maximum penalties (civil and criminal) under the tax law.

Let the tax attorneys of the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. resolve your IRS tax problems, get you in compliance with your FBAR filing obligations, and minimize the chance of any criminal investigation or imposition of civil penalties. Tax problems are usually a serious matter and must be handled appropriately so it’s important to that you’ve hired the best lawyer for your particular situation. The tax attorneys at the Law Offices Of Jeffrey B. Kahn, P.C. located in Orange County (Irvine), the San Francisco Bay Area (including San Jose and Walnut Creek) and elsewhere in California are highly skilled in handling tax matters and can effectively represent at all levels with the IRS and State Tax Agencies including criminal tax investigations and attempted prosecutions, undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, and unreported foreign income.