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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney's ‘I Dig It’ Trust Gives Heirs Triple Benefit

Bloomberg:  Romney ‘I Dig It’ Trust Gives Heirs Triple Benefit, by Jesse Drucker:

In January 1999, a trust set up by Mitt Romney for his children and grandchildren reaped a 1,000 percent return on the sale of shares in Internet advertising firm DoubleClick Inc. If Romney had given the cash directly, he could have owed a gift tax at a rate as high as 55%. He avoided gift and estate taxes by using a type of generation-skipping trust known to tax planners by the nickname: “I Dig It.”

The sale of DoubleClick shares received before the company went public, detailed in previously unreported securities filings reviewed by Bloomberg News, sheds new light on Romney’s estate planning -- the art of leaving assets for heirs while avoiding taxes. The Republican presidential candidate used a trust considered one of the most effective techniques for the wealthy to bypass estate and gift taxes. The Obama administration proposed cracking down on the tax benefits in February.

While Romney’s tax avoidance is both legal and common among high-net-worth individuals, it has become increasingly awkward for his candidacy since the disclosure of his remarks at a May fundraiser. He said that the nearly one-half of Americans who pay no income taxes are “dependent upon government” and “believe that they are victims.”

“People like Mitt Romney make a lot of money, but they pay very little income tax,” said Victor Fleischer, a tax law professor at the University of Colorado who has written extensively about private equity and taxes. “Then by dodging the estate and gift tax, they are able to build dynastic wealth. These DoubleClick documents really show that tax planning in action.” The Obama administration estimates that closing the loophole Romney used would bring the federal government almost $1 billion in the coming decade. ...

Multimillionaires use such trusts to avoid those taxes in three ways. First, they can assign a low value to assets they donate to the trust. Second, when the trust sells assets at a profit, the donors can pay the relatively low capital gains taxes on behalf of the trust. By doing so, they leave more money in the trust, untouched by the much higher gift tax. Third, by paying those taxes, they can reduce the pile of wealth eventually subject to an estate tax when they die.

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