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Taxpayer Makes Offer, But IRS Refused
Tuesday, October 31, 2023

James E. Caan, the movie actor most famous for playing Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, got into IRS trouble regarding the attempted tax-free rollover of his IRA. 

Caan had two IRA accounts at UBS, a multinational investment bank and financial services company. One account held cash, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETF) and the other account held a partnership interest in a hedge fund called P&A Multi-Sector Fund, L.P. 

Because the hedge fund was a non-publicly traded investment, UBS required Caan to provide UBS with the year-end fair market value to prepare IRS Form 5498. Caan never provided the fair market value as of December 31, 2014. UBS issued a number of notices and warnings to Caan and finally on November 25, 2015, UBS resigned as custodian of the P&A Interest. UBS issued Caan a 2015 Form 1099-R reporting a distribution of $1,910,903, which was the value of the P&A Interest, used as of December 31, 2013. Caan’s 2015 tax return reported the distribution as nontaxable.

In June 2015, Caan’s investment advisor Michael Margiotta resigned from UBS and began working for Merrill Lynch. In October 2015, Margiotta got all UBS IRA assets to transfer to a Merrill Lynch IRA, except for the P&A Interest. The P&A Interest was ineligible to transfer through the Automated Customer Account Transfer Service. In December 2016, Mr. Margiotta directed the P&A Fund to liquidate the P&A Interest and the cash was transferred to Caan’s Merrill Lynch IRA in three separate wires between January 23 and June 21, 2017.

In April 2018, the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency for the 2015 tax year asserting that distribution of the P&A Interest was taxable. On July 27, 2018, Caan requested a private letter ruling asking the IRS to waive the requirement that a rollover of an IRA distribution be made within 60 days. In September 2018, the IRS declined to issue the ruling.

Caan died July 6, 2022. In the Estate of Caan v. Commissioner, 161 T.C. No. 6 (October 18, 2023), the Tax Court ruled that Caan was not eligible for a tax-free IRA rollover of the P&A Interest for three reasons. First, to be a nontaxable rollover the taxpayer may not change the character of any noncash distributed property, but here, the P&A Interest was changed to cash before being rolled-over. Second, the contribution of the cash occurred long after the 60-day deadline. Third, only one rollover contribution is allowed in any one-year period, but Caan had three contributions. The Court also determined the 2015 fair market value of the P&A Interest. 

Finally, the Tax Court determined that it has jurisdiction to review the IRS denial of the 60-day waiver request and that the applicable standard of review is an abuse of discretion. The Court ruled there was no abuse of discretion because Caan changed the character of the rollover property and even if the IRS waived the 60-day requirement, the rollover would still not be tax-free. 

The case highlights some of the potential dangers in holding non-traditional, non-publicly traded assets in an IRA.

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