Family limited partnerships (or LLCs) are often used to obtain valuation discounts for estate and gift tax purposes. Appraisers typically conclude that the fair market value of an interest in a family limited partnership (“FLP”) is at least 35% less than the value of the assets owned by the FLP.

The IRS dislikes these discounts and has successfully challenged the discounts in several court decisions. As a general rule, the taxpayers were "sloppy" in the cases that the IRS has won. Errors were made either in funding, distributions, or record keeping.

When the FLP is properly funded and administered, taxpayers are able to substantiate the discounts. For every case in which the IRS has successfully disallowed discounts, there are many others where the court approved a discount or the IRS agreed to a discount without going to trial.

A case in point is the recent Rayford L. Keller et al v. United States decision. Mrs. Williams was in the hospital, dying from cancer. Six days before her death, she signed documents to establish an FLP to be funded with $240 million of bonds and $10 million cash.

The assets were not transferred to the FLP until one year after she died. Nevertheless, the Court ruled that her family was entitled to a 47.5% discount on the value of the bonds and cash that were transferred to the FLP.

I do not recommend waiting until death is imminent to establish an FLP. It is far better to establish the FLP when you have several years to live, and then to make gifts or sales of FLP interests when that is appropriate.

Detailed summary of Keller case by Steve Akers of Bessemer Trust Company, N.A.