Sunday, August 18, 2019

You Sell Your Lottery Winnings


I was looking at a case where someone won the New York State Lottery.

I could have worse issues, methinks.

But there was a tax issue that is worth talking about.

Let’s say you won $17.5 million in the lottery.

You elect to receive it 26 years.

          QUESTION: How is this going to be taxed?

Easy enough: the tax Code considers lottery proceeds to be the same as gambling income. It will be taxed the same as a W-2 or an IRA distribution. You will pay ordinary tax rates. You will probably be maxing the tax rates, truthfully.

Let’s say you collected for three years and then sold the remaining amounts-to-be-received for $7.1 million.

          QUESTION: How is this going to be taxed?

I see what you are doing. You are hoping to get that $7.1 million taxed at a capital gains rate.

You googled the definition of a capital asset and find the following:

            § 1221 Capital asset defined.

(a)  In general.
For purposes of this subtitle, the term "capital asset" means property held by the taxpayer (whether or not connected with his trade or business), but does not include-
(1)  stock in trade of the taxpayer or other property of a kind which would properly be included in the inventory of the taxpayer if on hand at the close of the taxable year, or property held by the taxpayer primarily for sale to customers in the ordinary course of his trade or business;
(2) property, used in his trade or business, of a character which is subject to the allowance for depreciation provided in section 167 , or real property used in his trade or business;
(3) a patent, invention, model or design (whether or not patented), a secret formula or process, a copyright, a literary, musical, or artistic composition, a letter or memorandum, or similar property, held by-
(A)  a taxpayer whose personal efforts created such property,
(B)  in the case of a letter, memorandum, or similar property, a taxpayer for whom such property was prepared or produced, or
(C)  a taxpayer in whose hands the basis of such property is determined, for purposes of determining gain from a sale or exchange, in whole or part by reference to the basis of such property in the hands of a taxpayer described in subparagraph (A) or (B) ;
(4) accounts or notes receivable acquired in the ordinary course of trade or business for services rendered or from the sale of property described in paragraph (1) ;
(5) a publication of the United States Government (including the Congressional Record) which is received from the United States Government or any agency thereof, other than by purchase at the price at which it is offered for sale to the public, and which is held by-
(A)  a taxpayer who so received such publication, or
(B)  a taxpayer in whose hands the basis of such publication is determined, for purposes of determining gain from a sale or exchange, in whole or in part by reference to the basis of such publication in the hands of a taxpayer described in subparagraph (A) ;
(6) any commodities derivative financial instrument held by a commodities derivatives dealer, unless-
(A)  it is established to the satisfaction of the Secretary that such instrument has no connection to the activities of such dealer as a dealer, and
(B)  such instrument is clearly identified in such dealer's records as being described in subparagraph (A) before the close of the day on which it was acquired, originated, or entered into (or such other time as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe);
(7) any hedging transaction which is clearly identified as such before the close of the day on which it was acquired, originated, or entered into (or such other time as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe); or
(8) supplies of a type regularly used or consumed by the taxpayer in the ordinary course of a trade or business of the taxpayer.

Did you notice how this Code section is worded: a capital asset is property that is not …?

You don’t see anything there that looks like your lottery, and you are thinking maybe you have a capital asset. The sale of a capital asset gets one to capital gains tax, right?

You call me with your tax insight and planning.

If tax practice were only that easy.

You see, over the years the Courts have developed doctrines to fill-in the gaps in statutory Code language.

We have spoken of several doctrines before. One was the Cohan rule, named after George Cohan, who showed up at a tax audit long on deductions and short on supporting documentation.  The Court nonetheless allowed estimates for many of his expenses, reasoning that the Court knew he had incurred expenses and it would be unreasonable to allow nothing because of inadequate paperwork.

Congress felt that the Cohan rule could lead to abuses when it came to certain expenses such as meals, entertainment and travel. That is how Code section 274(d) came to be: as the anti-Cohan rule for selected expense types. No documentation means no deduction under Sec 274(d).

Back to our capital gains.

Look at the following language:
We do not see here any conversion of a capital investment. The lump sum consideration seems essentially a substitute for what would otherwise be received at a future time as ordinary income."
The substance of what was assigned was the right to receive future income. The substance of what was received was the present value of income which the recipient would otherwise obtain in the future. In short, consideration was paid for the right to receive future income, not for an increase in the value of the income-producing property."

This is from the Commissioner v PG Lake case in 1958.

The Court is describing what has come to be referred to as the “substitute for ordinary income” doctrine.

The easiest example is when you receive money right now for a future payment or series of future payments that would be treated as ordinary income when received.

Like a series of future lottery payments.

Mind you, there are limits on this doctrine. For example, one could argue that the value of a common stock is equal to its expected stream of future cash payments, whether as dividends or in liquidation. When looked at in such light, does that mean that the sale of stock today would be ordinary and not capital gain income?

The tax nerds would argue that it is not the same. You do not have the right to those future dividends until the company declares them, for example. Contrast that to a lottery that someone has already begun collecting. There is nothing left to do in that case but to wait for the mailman to come with your check.

I get the difference.

In our example the taxpayer got to pay ordinary tax rates on her $7.1 million. The Court relied on the “substitute for ordinary income” doctrine and a case from before many of us were born.

Our case this time was Prebola v Commissioner, TC Memo 2006-240.

No comments:

Post a Comment