What is a “Willful” Failure to Disclose Offshore Bank Account

This is the central question as to whether a taxpayer enters Offshore Voluntary Disclosure or Streamline.  It also fixes potential penalties under 31 U.S.C. §5321.

31 U.S.C. 5314 is the statute that requires reporting of foreign bank accounts.  Pursuant to the statute, reporting is required by the following:

  1. a United States Citizen,
  2. a resident of the United States or
  3. a person in, and doing business in the United States.

Incidentally, the term “person” has broad meaning, which includes corporations.

Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. §5321, the amount of penalty shall not exceed $10,000 unless the case is “willful“.  In cases of willfulness, the maximum penalty increases to the greater of  $100,000 or 50 percent of the account balance.  It is also noteworthy that, pursuant to subsection (d), a criminal penalty may be stacked on top of this civil penalty.

A lot is riding on the meaning of “willful” so let’s turn our focus to it.  If you would like to read what is required of the Secretary of Treasure to prove an FBAR case, click here to read the 7 elements.

Legal standard and Burden of Proof

To affix the civil penalty under 31 U.S.C. §5321 the Secretary of Treasury must establish willfulness by the preponderance of the evidence.  This is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Burden of Proof is on the United States Government.

Meaning of “Willful”

31 U.S.C. §5321 does not define “willful”.  In United States of America v. McBride, 908 F. Supp. 1186 (D.Utah 2012), The United State District Court analyzed the meaning of “willful” as it is used in 31 U.S.C. §5321.  The Court gave heavy weight to the fact that taxpayer signed the tax return.

Signature alone is sufficient proof of a taxpayer’s knowledge of the instructions contained in the tax return form and in other contexts, the Court stated.  This is an inference of “willful” conduct by mere signature alone. The Court went on to analyze the proposition that signature by itself does not prove knowledge, but knowledge may be inferred from the signature and the signature is prima facie evidence that the signer knows the contents of the return.

In either case, taxpayer’s signature shifts the burden of proof to taxpayer to prove non-willfulness.  The Court held that knowledge of the law, including knowledge of the FBAR, requirements, is imputed to taxpayer, which is sufficient to inform taxpayer of the requirement to file Form TD F 90-22.1.  The Court held that signature alone imputed knowledge to taxpayer of the FBAR requirement.

It is noteworthy that the Court analyzed taxpayer’s credibility in detail.  Taxpayer alleged that he did not know he had a legal duty to file FBAR’s, which is common and understandable assertion.  Rather than just dismiss this argument on the basis of his signature on tax return, the Court found taxpayer not credible because of prior testimonial inconsistencies.

Implicitly, there is a defense that taxpayer did not know of FBAR requirements despite signature on a tax return.  After all a signature is prima facie evidence of willfulness, not the end-all and be-all of willfulness.

In the end, “willfulness” is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case that must be analyzed in the context of that particular time period in question.

 

Breaking News: IRS Changes to the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP)

IRS Reduces OVDP Penalty to 5% in non-willful offshore compliance cases.

For eligible U.S. taxpayers residing in the United States, the only penalty will be a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5 percent of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.

Other positive changes for taxpayers living in the United States:

  • Eliminating a requirement that the taxpayer have $1,500 or less of unpaid tax per year;
  • Eliminating the required risk questionnaire;
  • Requiring the taxpayer to certify that previous failures to comply were due to non-willful conduct.

The IRS increases its effort to make OVDP accessible to everyone.  This is a step in the right direction.  The goal is to get taxpayers in compliance.

Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.

Other good news: If you made an OVDP submission prior to July 1, 2014 you may elect to have your case considered under Streamline so long as a closing agreement has not been executed.

We specialize in Offshore Account Compliance. We represent taxpayers entering the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Program (OVDP)

See our page on OVDP / OVDI

Please contact Tax Attorney Philip Falco, Attorney, CPA to discuss these new measures and how they apply to you (303) 626-7000.

 

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) (OVDP) Program

The clock is ticking on this tax amnesty program provided by the IRS.

Countries from around the world have disclosed or are in the process of disclosing United States account holder information.  If a taxpayer is caught before entering OVDI / OVDP the penalties are draconian.  Penalties likely include criminal prosecution.

If the taxpayer has offshore accounts or properties, it is critical that the taxpayer speak with a tax attorney and not an accountant.  The accountant privilege does not apply to criminal proceedings.  However, the attorney-client privilege does apply to criminal proceedings.  The accountant could be subpoenaed to testify against the taxpayer at the criminal trial.

As a duly licensed Attorney and Certified Public Accountant, Philip Falco will work on your case to gain acceptance in OVDI / OVDP.

Quiet disclosures are not the answer.  This is where a taxpayer begins to file proper schedules on his or her tax return without entering OVDI / OVDP.  The IRS has specifically reserved the right to pursue criminal prosecution in these cases.

Because of the vast disclosures from foreign countries, participation in OVDI / OVDP is becoming more difficult every day.

The disclosures required for  OVDI / OVDP are massive and must be done precisely.  The worst fear would be accusation of a half-truth facing criminal prosecution.

We can prepare the required amendments to your returns and prepare the complete package to the IRS as required by OVDI / OVDP.

In the opinion of Philip Falco, Attorney, CPA, the offshore initiative is the most significant tax development since the 1986 revisions to the internal revenue code that cracked down on tax shelters (revisions to passive activities and at-risk tax rules).

See our page on OVDP / OVDI