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Tax Law on “Assignment of Income”

Gross income is taxed to the individual who earns it or to an owner of property that generates the income. Under the so-called “assignment of income doctrine,” a taxpayer may not avoid tax by assigning the right to income to another. Specifically, the assignment of income doctrine holds that a taxpayer who earns income from services that the taxpayer performs or property that the taxpayer owns generally cannot avoid liability for tax on that income by assigning it to another person or entity. The doctrine is frequently applied to assignments to creditors, controlled entities, family trusts and charities.

A taxpayer cannot, for tax purposes, assign income that has already accrued from property the taxpayer owns. This aspect of the assignment of income doctrine is often applied to interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and trust income. And, under the same rationale, an assignment of an interest in a lottery ticket is effective only if it occurs before the ticket is ascertained to be a winning ticket. However, a taxpayer can shift liability for capital gains on property not yet sold by making a bona fide gift of the underlying property. In that case, the donee of a gift of securities takes the “carryover” basis of the donor. For example, shares now valued at $50 gifted to a donee in which the donor has a tax basis of $10, would yield a taxable gain to the donee of its eventual sale price less the $10 carryover basis. The donor escapes income tax on any of the appreciation.

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