- The IRS can levy upon payments from any trust to a beneficiary in order to enforce its rights under a tax lien even if the trust contains spendthrift provisions.
- Perhaps more significantly, in the event that the delinquent taxpayer/beneficiary has a fixed right to trust income, the levy attaches not only to each payment, but also to the taxpayer/beneficiary's "fixed right to obtain a future distribution from the trust." This means that the Service can seize and sell the actuarial right to the payment stream. It does not mean that it can demand immediate payment from the trustee. However, this is potentially devastating to the taxpayer/beneficiary since the payment stream, sold at auction, is likely to be sold at a deep discount. Thus, the seizure and sale will likely make only a small dent in the taxpayer's liability to the IRS, while possibly stripping the taxpayer of his or her patrimony.
- Most troubling from the standpoint of a trustee, the memorandum concludes that when a trustee distributes funds that he knows are encumbered by a federal tax lien and the funds "enter the stream of commerce and cannot be traced" (which presumably occurs virtually any time cash is paid to the beneficiary and it can't be recovered), the trustee is liable for tortious conversion for intentionally impairing the lienor's security. This would seem to pose significant problems for institutional trustees such as banks. In many cases, one department of a bank (e.g., the mortgage service department) may have knowledge of a tax lien against a beneficiary. That knowledge is likely not regularly transmitted to the trust department and, in many cases, the mortgage service department may not even be aware that its customer is a beneficiary of a trust with respect to which the bank is the trustee.
Monday, April 10, 2006
What Did the Trustee Know and When Did He Know It?
A memorandum recently issued by IRS Area Counsel, PLR 200614006, promises to be a major headache for trustees of various types of trusts. Specifically, the memorandum asserts the following: