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FAQ: What is a Family Partnership?

May 18, 2012

The family partnership is a common device for reducing the overall tax burden of family members. Family members who contribute property or services to a partnership in exchange for partnership interests are subject to the same general tax rules that apply to unrelated partners. If the related persons deal with each other at arm's length, their partnership is recognized for tax purposes and the terms of the partnership agreement governing their shares of partnership income and loss are respected.

Interfamily Gifts

Because of the tax planning opportunities family partnerships present, they are closely scrutinized by the IRS. When a family member acquires a partnership interest by gift, the validity of the partnership may be questioned. For example, a partnership between a parent in a personal services business and a child who contributes little or no services is likely to be disregarded as an attempt to assign the parent's income to the child. Similarly, a purported gift of a partnership interest may be ignored if, in substance, the donor continues to own the interest through his power to control or influence the donee's business decision. When a partnership interest is transferred to a guardian or trustee for the benefit of a family member, the beneficiary is considered a partner only if the trustee or guardian must act independently and solely in the beneficiary's best interest.

Capital or Services

The determination of whether a person is recognized as a partner depends on whether capital is a material income-producing factor in the partnership. Any person, including a family member, who purchases or is given real ownership of a capital interest in a partnership in which capital is a material income-producing factor, is recognized as a partner automatically. If capital is not a material income-producing factor (for example, if a partnership derives most income from services, a family member is not recognized as a partner unless all the facts and circumstances show a good faith business purpose for forming the partnership.

If the family partnership is recognized for tax purposes, the partnership agreement generally governs the partners' allocations of income and loss. These allocations are not respected, however, to the extent the partnership agreement does not provide reasonable compensation to the donor for services he renders to the partnership or allocates a disproportionate amount of income to the donee. The IRS can re-allocate partnership income between the donor and donee if these requirements are not met.

Investment Partnerships

The general rule for determining gain recognition for marketable securities does not apply to the distribution of marketable securities by an investment partnership to an eligible partner. An investment partnership is a partnership that has never been engaged in a trade or business (other than as a trader or dealer in the certain specified investment-type assets) and substantially all the assets of which have always consisted of certain specified investment-type assets (which do not include, for example, interests in real estate or real estate limited partnerships).

If a family limited partnership (FLP) qualifies as an investment partnership, the FLP could redeem the partnership interest of an eligible partner with marketable securities without the recognition of any gain by the redeemed partner. To qualify, substantially all the assets of the FLP must always have consisted of the eligible investment assets, and the holding of even totally passive real estate interests (real estate that does not constitute a trade or business), for instance, must be kept to a minimum. In addition, any eligible partner must have contributed only the specified investment assets (or money) in exchange for his or her partnership interest.


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