TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, July 6, 2012

GAO: The Role of Appraisals in the Estate, Gift & Income Taxes

GAO LogoThe Government Accountability Office yesterday released Appraised Values on Tax Returns: Burdens on Taxpayers Could Be Reduced and Selected Practices Improved (GAO-12-608):

Misstated appraisals used to support tax returns have long caused concern. In 2006, Congress adopted the Pension Protection Act, which changed the criterion for when appraisals are considered to be substantially misstated and created a penalty for improper appraiser practices and qualifications for appraisers with respect to noncash charitable deductions. The Tax Technical Corrections Act of 2007.

Among its objectives, GAO was asked to (1) describe the extent to which individual, estate, and gift tax returns are likely to involve an appraiser and the extent to which IRS audits them; (2) describe how IRS selects returns likely to involve appraisals for compliance examinations, and assess whether the current appraisal threshold is useful; and (3) assess IRS procedures for ensuring that its appraisal experts are qualified.

Appraisers’ most prominent role relative to the three types of tax returns GAO studied is in the valuation of estates. In the most recent years for which GAO had data, appraisers were likely involved in the valuation of property worth from $75 billion to $167 billion reported on estate tax returns in 2009. In contrast, less than $17 billion worth of gifts in 2009 and less than $10 billion in noncash contributions in 2008 likely involved an appraiser. Gift tax returns that likely used appraisers had higher audit rates than gift returns that were unlikely to have appraisers. The use of appraisers was not associated with higher audit rates for estate tax returns and individual returns with noncash contributions.

The IRS’s procedures for selecting returns to audit do not specifically target noncash contributions or gift or estate tax returns supported by appraisals. Nevertheless, returns with appraisals do get included in the population of audited returns because certain types of returns on which IRS does focus, such as higher-income ones, are also the most likely ones to have noncash charitable contributions that require appraisals.

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