Starting in 2013, the Affordable Care Act introduced a 3.8% Medicare Tax on certain investment income. The tax does not extend to non-passive trade or business income. Under § 469(c)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code, a taxpayer who material participates in business activities can classify the income from the activities as non-passive. So trusts can avoid the Medicare Tax if they can have their investment income classified as non-passive trade or business income.
Prior to Aragona Trust, the IRS maintained that a trust materially participates in business activities only if the trustee is directly involved in the operations of the trust's business activities on a regular, continuous and substantial basis. The trustee also has to be fiduciary of the trust, so the activities of special trustee whose role is limited to participating in the trust's business are not considered in determining if the trust material participates in the business. The IRS further maintained that if the trustee is also an employee of the underlying business, only activities performed by the trustee in his capacity as trustee count toward material participation, and not activities done as an employee.
In Aragona Trust, the trust attempted to have income from its rental real estate activities classified as non-passive business income. The Bloomberg BNA Estate Tax Blog summarizes that facts and arguments as follows:
During 2005 and 2006, the Frank Aragona Trust incurred substantial losses from its rental real estate properties. The trust also reported gains from its other (non-rental) real estate activities. In the Tax Court, the IRS argued that the trust's rental real estate activities were passive because a trust is incapable of materially participating in rental real estate activities. Alternatively, the IRS argued that even if a trust could materially participate in rental real estate activities, in the Aragona case, the court should disregard the activities of the three trustees who also work for trust's wholly-owned LLC because these trustees performed their activities as employees of the LLC and not in their duties as trustees. The trust contended that it could materially participate in its rental real estate activities, and that the activities of the three trustees who were also employed by the wholly-owned limited liability company should not be disregarded.
In its decision, the tax court held first that a trust is capable of materially participating in business activities through the activities of its trustees. The court then considered the Aragona Trust and found that on the facts of the case, the trustees' involvement in the business activities qualified as regular, continuous and substantial. The court held that the trustees' activities as employees of the LLC counted as the trust's participation because the trustees retained their duties as trustees of the trust while acting as employees of the LLC.
The holding of material participation in Aragona Trust is limited to the facts of the case, but the case provides some clarity on the issue and furnishes trustees with arguments to use in dealing with the IRS. As the Daily Tax Report puts it,