IRS Whistleblower Claims Explored at Heckerling Institute, the Leading Conference for Estate & Trust Lawyers and Estate Planners

The University of Miami’s Heckerling Institute last week brought together the nation’s leading estate planners, including attorneys, trust officers, accountants, insurance advisors, and wealth management professionals. For the first time, these estate planning professionals delved into how estate and gift tax issues are the subjects of many IRS Whistleblower claims.

This program was organized by Marty Basson, who recently retired from the IRS Whistleblower Office and hung out his shingle (now providing a wealth of knowledge to the private bar), after a distinguished career as the IRS authority on estate and gift tax issues.

Marty has long served on the Heckerling Institute faculty at the University of Miami. Marty is also a charter member of the IRS Estate and Gift Tax National Advisory Panel, a select group of IRS attorneys who assist in forming nationwide policy decisions in the estate and gift tax area.

Marty asked me to join him and Dawn Applebaum of the IRS Whistleblower Office for a Heckerling panel discussion last week on the IRS Whistleblower Program in the estate and gift tax arena. While a few professionals in attendance had already filed IRS Whistleblower claims, the vast majority had not.

Heckerling provided a first class forum to address many of the “hot” issues in the tax whistleblower program. I was honored to join Marty and Dawn as the private whistleblower attorney who provided the perspective of whistleblowers in the IRS Whistleblower Program.

Once Congress created the new IRS Whistleblower Program in December 2006, the IRS Whistleblower Office was unsure whether it would receive many estate tax and gift tax claims. It received far more estate and gift tax claims than anticipated.

Consider a typical case of a divorced couple who both know that a parent has hidden accounts offshore. When that parent dies, the estranged spouse knows that the offshore accounts will not likely appear on the estate tax return. Such information about tax evasion is very useful to the Service, so that honest taxpayers do not bear more than our fair share of the burden.

Our Heckerling discussion covered many, many aspects of the IRS Whistleblower Program in a spirited discussion that ran out of time. Marty was suddenly free to express his own observations, not simply the official position of the IRS.

Among the topics were recent Tax Court opinions on protecting the confidentiality of whistleblowers and of taxpayer information in appeals, and the protections of taxpayer information in proposed new Tax Court Rule 345.

I was asked to discuss steps to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil liability, which has been an important issue in past presentations after UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld found himself prosecuted for a federal offense. Marty also asked me to discuss the view of numerous tax whistleblowers as their claims progress through the process.

One intriguing issue we discussed is how the New York False Claims Act and its “tax” whistleblower provisions may put pressure on the IRS to resolve claims more efficiently. Otherwise, tax whistleblowers whose claims also involve New York state tax liability may turn to the New York Attorney General’s Office to take the lead, by also filing claims under the New York statute. (The claims must be filed in a particular order to receive the benefit of both laws.)

The Heckerling Institute was an outstanding forum to address the IRS Whistleblower program and estate and gift tax claims.