IRS Wins Record $388M from Former Pistons Owner’s Estate

In a landmark estate tax settlement the IRS netted $388 million in a record settlement with the estate of Bill Davidson, a noted philanthropist and owner of the Detroit Pistons, the WNBA’s Detroit Shock and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The IRS claimed an astounding $2 billion deficiency of estate/gift/generation-skipping taxes with the former Pistons owner’s estate. To put it perspective, the Treasury took in a total of $12.7 billion in estate tax revenue in 2013. Where did Davidson go wrong?

Here’s the quick breakdown in dollars: $187 million in gift taxes, $152 million in estate taxes, $49 million in generation-skipping taxes, and a $133,000 gift tax penalty.

The IRS took note of two main issues that led to the deficiencies:

The estate undervalued corporate stock. The IRS claimed the estate reduced the value of privately held Guardian stock held in trust for children and grandchildren. Estates with hard-to-value assets such as privately-held stock, real estate or art need to pay close attention to the valuations for gift and estate tax purposes.

The estate also improperly valued self-cancelling installment notes (SCIN’s). Although they are a well-recognized means of tax mitigation, the IRS questioned the computations Davidson employed and claimed Davidson was making taxable gifts he should have reported. The IRS takes a tough stance on how you value the notes and what you need to do to establish that it’s a fair exchange of assets for the notes.

You don’t have to a part of the “Billionaires Club” to face estate planning challenges. Any individual or family with a business, real estate holdings, household property, liquid savings, or stock investments will want to establish a thorough estate plan before unforeseen circumstances intervene. The only way to make sure more of your money is transferred to the people and causes you care about (over the IRS) is to plan for it with your advisors. Talley & Company is here to help.