New York Times Article Didn’t Print All The Facts That Fit The Case
My office has received many inquiries from agents about the July 28 article by David Cay Johnston (“IRS Loophole Allows Wealthy to Avoid Taxes”) published on the front page of the New York Times. This article purports to describe a secret tax-saving scheme, whereby wealthy individuals avoid substantial estate and gift taxes.
The article says the technique “has been approved by the IRS.” Many financial service professionals received calls from their clients wanting to do the same thing.
We believe that important facts were left out of the Times article, which if included, would cast an entirely different light on the situation. Since attorneys, agents and customers apparently must sign a confidentiality agreement, not much is known about this technique. But, one can piece together various aspects of the article to figure out its general outlines.
The article indicates that “[t]he technique is legal, blessed by the IRS in 1996.” The article also mentions that the technique involves split-dollar. We know that in 1996 the IRS issued a private letter ruling (“PLR”) on private split-dollar (PLR 9636033). In reading the article, we believe that this is the foundation for the technique being discussed.
Unfortunately, the article does not explain that the so-called IRS approval is just a private letter ruling. Whenever we present material about a PLR, we believe it is crucial to the readers understanding to emphasize that a PLR cannot be relied on by anyone but the taxpayer to whom it is issued. That is, the PLR does not have general application to all taxpayers, and cannot be cited as precedent.
We also explain the review process through which a PLR goes, as opposed to other rulings, such as a Revenue Ruling, which has general application. A PLR does not undergo the scrutiny that the IRS applies to a Revenue Ruling, and this is a large part of the reason why a PLR cannot be cited as precedent.