Winning The Lottery Is Just The Beginning…

by Michael W. Blitstein, CPA 

Many individuals play the lottery every week with the fantasy of having that winning ticket. Oh, all the things the prize would provide if we just had the lucky numbers.  However, most do not think of the necessary tax planning that surrounds acquiring the wealth.

A recent Tax Court case summarizes the experience of one family. The taxpayer learned she held a winning lottery ticket. The taxpayer’s father contacted an attorney who prepared incorporation papers for an S corporation. The taxpayer and several family members were the stockholders. The taxpayer subsequently transferred the ticket to the S corporation.

Before the taxpayer could claim her winnings, she had to defend her prize against a competing claim by her co-workers. A state trial court sided with the co-workers but the state highest court reversed that decision.

The IRS determined that the taxpayer had made a gift as a result of her transfer of the ticket to the S corporation. The IRS issued a deficiency notice for $771,000 for gift tax owed (income tax liability was not a part of this case). The taxpayer appealed to the Tax Court for relief.

The court first found that the Code generally imposes a tax irrespective of whether the gift is direct or indirect. Under regulations, a transfer of property to a corporation for less than adequate consideration represents gifts to the other individual stockholders of the corporation to the extent of their proportionate interests.

The court rejected the taxpayer’s argument that there was no gift because a family contract required transfer of the ticket. The court found that there was no pooling of money. There were no predetermined sharing percentages. At most, the family had an unenforceable “agreement to agree.”

The court further found that no partnership existed among the taxpayer and her family members. All of the decisions about the ticket were made by the taxpayer’s father; not jointly by all the family members as had been argued. The court concluded that the transfer was a gift, discounted only to account for the competing claims by co-workers at the time of the gift.

So… what’s the moral of this story? As you daydream about what winning the lottery can mean to you, you may want to include getting some real tax advice before you cash in the ticket as part of your fantasy.

CJBS, LLC is a Chicago based firm that assists its clients with a wide range of accounting and financial issues, protecting and expanding the value of mid-size companies. E-mail me at michael@cjbs.com if you have any questions about this posting or if I may be of assistance in any way.

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