Investors may no longer deduct investment expenses, including those passed through from an investment partnership. Restructuring these expenses into a management company might achieve business expense treatment providing it’s a genuine family office with substantial staff rendering financial services to extended family members and outside clients.
The IRS might assert the family office is managing “one’s own investments,” not for outside clients, so the management company is also an investment company with non-deductible investment expenses. Before you go in that direction, it’s wise to learn the lessons of the Lender Management court case from December 2017, which is one of the first on family offices.
A single-family office serves one ultra-wealthy extended family, whereas, a multi-family office handles more than one family. Well-established single- and multi-family offices offer a wide variety of financial services, including wealth management, financial planning, accounting, tax, and personal finance. They have substantial staff and salaries, offices, equipment, and operations — the markings of an independent financial services company.
Family office requirements
A family office management company with underlying investment partnerships can use business expense treatment when it has the following characteristics, borne out of the Lender Management tax court case and earlier case law:
- It’s a functional financial services company with significant staff and salaries, an office, equipment and bona fide operations.
- It operates in a continuous and business-like manner.
- Its staff has expertise that is valuable to its clients.
- A profit-allocation of capital gains is considered advisory fee compensation for services rendered. It gets paid more than just its share of profits based on capital.
- It should be profitable.
- It caters to many extended family members with diverging financial needs. It does not operate with a single mindset but provides customized services to each family member.
- Family members and their investment partnerships are not obligated to use the family office.
- There should not be a majority of common ownership between the management company and investment partnerships (this factor is critical).
- It’s safer to have third-party clients who are not family members (a suggestion, not a requirement).
Small family offices have trouble
If two spouses own an investment partnership and management company, then the family office has 100% common ownership, which fails the requirements. The micro family office renders services exclusively to the spousal-owned investment partnership. The management company does not function as an independent financial services company, with outside staff or an outside office. It does not stand alone as a financial service provider. In the eyes of the IRS, it oversees its own investments. This management company should not use business expense treatment. (Some trader accounting and law firms sold this scheme to traders who do not qualify for trader tax status. I’ve always said it did not work and the Lender court confirms it doesn’t work.)
Management fees and carried interest
Consider this typical example: An investment partnership pays a 0.5% management fee on funds under management of $1M ($5,000 per year). The investment partnership also pays a 20% profit allocation (carried interest) based on performance (say, $50,000 for the year). The investment partnership passes through an investment expense of $5,000 for the management fee, which the investor cannot deduct on their tax return. The profit allocation avoids the investment expense deduction problem because it carves out a share of capital gains on each investor’s Schedule K-1.