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Tax Court Holds that a Trust can Qualify for the "Real Estate Professional Exception" of Section 469(c)(7)

The Tax Court recently handed down its decision in Frank Aragona Trust v. Commissioner, ruling that a trust can qualify for the real estate professional exception of Section 469(c)(7). By taking into account the actions of the trustees, a trust can be considered to be materially participating in real estate activities. This means that losses from real estate activities can be treated as nonpassive and therefore deductible in determining the trust's taxable income. This decision is especially relevant to trusts that own business as it affects the application of the passive activity loss rules in Section 469 and whether income from those activities is subject to the new 3.8% net investment income Medicare surtax under Section 1411.

The Frank Aragona Trust (the "Trust") was a Michigan trust that owned several pieces of real property and was also involved in the business aspects of developing and maintaining the property. The Trust had six trustees, three of whom were also employees of Holiday Enterprises, LLC (the "LLC"). The LLC was owned 100% by the Trust. The LLC also employed other professionals.

The Trust had losses in 2005 and 2006 from its real estate activities and deducted those losses(on the basis that they resulted from nonpassive activities) on its income tax returns. In issuing a notice of deficiency for those tax years, the Service determined that the real estate activities were passive under Section 469 and therefore any related losses were not deductible.

In general, real estate rental activity is considered passive regardless of whether the taxpayer materially participates in the real estate business. However, there is an exception for "real estate professionals" under Section 469(c)(7). Before the Tax Court, the Trustees argued that the Trust was a "real estate professional" as defined in Section 469(c)(7) so that the losses were considered to be from nonpassive activities and therefore deductible. To qualify for the real estate professional exception, a taxpayer must pass two tests. First, more than one-half of the personal services performed in a taxable year must be performed in real property trades or businesses in which the taxpayer materially participates. Second, the taxpayer must perform more than 750 hours or services during the taxable year in real property trades or businesses in which the taxpayer materially participates. The Service argued that the regulations to Section 469(c)(7) define "personal services" as "work performed by an individual in connection with a trade or business [emphasis added]." Because the trust was not an individual, it could not perform personal services and therefore did not fall under the Section 469(c)(7) exception.

The Tax Court rejected the Service's argument that the trust could not be considered an individual under Section 469(c)(7) and the associated regulations. Further, the Court found that the Trustees' participation in the real estate activities met the material participation requirements of Section 469(c)(7) because they were regular, continuous and substantial. The Court determined that the participation of the Trustees should be considered in determining whether the taxpayer (the Trust) materially participated in the real estate activities. The Service argued that the activities of the Trustee should only apply if they are performed in their capacity as Trustees (as opposed to employees of the LLC). Here, the Court looked to Michigan law, under which trustees are required to administer trusts solely for the benefit of the trust beneficiaries. The Court explained that the Trustees could not simply stop acting as Trustees because they were also employees of the LLC, so that their activities in other capacities could be considered in whether the Trust was a material participant in the real estate activities.

In summary, a trust may be able to qualify for the real estate professional exception of Section 469(c)(7). If the trust qualifies for the exception, losses from the associated real estate activities may be deductible on the trust's income tax return. This distinction has increased importance with the application of the new 3.8% net investment income Medicare surtax under Section 1411.

© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume IV, Number 136
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About this Author

Albert W Gortz, Proskauer Rose Law Firm, Personal Planning Attorney
Partner

Albert W. Gortz is a Partner in the Personal Planning Department and has been with the firm since 1970 and in the Florida office since he opened it in 1977.

561-995-4700
George D Karibjanian, Proskauer Rose Law Firm, Personal Planning Attorney
Senior Counsel

George D. Karibjanian is a Senior Counsel in the Personal Planning Department, resident in the Boca Raton office. George is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Wills, Trusts & Estates and is a Fellow in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

561-995-4780
David Pratt, Personal Planning Attorney, Proskauer Rose Law Firm,
Partner

David Pratt is a Partner in the Personal Planning Department and head of the Boca Raton office. His practice is dedicated exclusively to the areas of trusts and estates, estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer, fiduciary and individual income taxation and fiduciary litigation. He has extensive experience in estate planning and post-mortem tax planning. He has been asked to serve as an expert witness on several occasions, and has been referred to as a “seasoned trusts and estates lawyer” in a Florida Third District Court of Appeals Opinion

561-995-4777
Mitchell M Gaswirth, Proskauer Rose Law Firm, Tax Attorney
Partner

Mitchell M. Gaswirth is a Partner in the Tax Department. His practice focuses primarily on income, gift and estate tax and related business planning. Mitchell counsels individuals, entrepreneurs and business entities in connection with the various income and other tax issues which arise in sophisticated business transactions.

310-284-5693
Andrew M Katzenstein, Proskauer Law Firm, Personal Planning Attorney
Partner

Andrew M. Katzenstein is a Partner in the Personal Planning Department in the Los Angeles office where he assists high net worth individuals, companies and charitable organizations with all aspects of tax and estate planning. He focuses his practice on tax planning matters, which include estate, gift and generation-skipping tax planning, as well as income tax of trust planning, probate and trust administration matters, resolving disputes between fiduciaries and beneficiaries, and charitable planning

310-284-4553
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