Tag Archives: Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook Billionaires Avoid Taxes with GRATs

Forbes recently highlighted how Facebook co-founders Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz established grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) to transfer significant amounts of wealth tax-free.  In 2008, Zuckerberg and Moskovitz established GRATs which will enable the Facebook executives to transfer as much as $185 million to future offspring or others without paying any gift tax.  Most wealthy individuals recognize that this year offers a golden opportunity to transfer $5.12 million in assets without incurring any gift tax. However, the Facebook executives followed a similar tax strategy to the Walmart founders, the Walton family, by funding their GRATs with their rapidly appreciating Facebook shares.

ImageGRATs function by allowing a grantor (Zuckerberg and Moskovitz) to place shares or other assets into an ­irrevocable trust and retain the right to ­receive an annual payment back from the trust for a period of time.  Typically, to avoid the risk of premature death, advisors select a shorter time period of 2 to 4 years. If the grantor survives that period, any property left in the trust when the annual payments end passes to family members, other beneficiaries, or another trust.

A crucial aspect is determining the value of the remainder interest in the annuity. In calculating how much value will be left at the end of the annuity term (the remainder) — and thus how big a gift the grantor is making — the IRS does look at the performance of the actual stock (or any other asset) in the trust. Instead, the IRS assumes the trust assets are earning a meager government-determined interest rate. With a zeroed-out, or “Walton” GRAT, the grantor receives an annuity that leaves nothing for heirs if assets grow only at the IRS’ lowly interest rate. If the assets grow faster, the excess goes to the heirs gift tax free. If assets or stock under-perform or decrease in value, there is no downside for the grantor because the annuity can be paid by returning some shares each year to the grantor.

As a result, a GRAT is an ideal instrument to shift assets you expect to suddenly increase in value.  Hence, rapidly appreciating stock of technology giants (Facebook) or growing retails empires (Walmart) have proven to be the perfect assets to utilize within a GRAT.  President Obama and Democrat legislators have targeted zeroed-out GRATs as tax loopholes of the wealthy and have proposed legislation which would eliminate their use.  Until that time, the GRAT remains a valuable wealth transfer tool.

Billion Dollar Tax Bill for Facebook CEO Zuckerberg

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will soon become a billionaire when the social media giant completes its initial public offering (IPO).   Despite the enormous benefit to his personal wealth, he will face some severe tax consequences from his proposed exercise of millions of stock options.

Zuckerberg currently owns almost 414 million shares of Facebook, but he also holds options to buy another 120 million shares at the bargain price of 6 cents a piece. Facebook said in its IPO paperwork that Zuckerberg plans to exercise those options and will sell some of his shares during Facebook’s initial offering to cover the tax bill.

Zuckerberg will pay ordinary income tax on the spread between the fair market value of Facebook shares when he exercise his options and the price he pays for the shares  – 6 cents.  Private analysts estimate the shares will go for $40 per share during the IPO.  At such an elevated price, Zuckerberg will owe roughly $1.5 to $2 billion in taxes.

Needless to say, Zuckerberg will pay tax at the highest marginal federal income tax rate of 35% .  In addition, as a California resident, Zuckerberg will pay state income tax at a 10.3% rate.  Why is Zuckerberg willing to shell out billions in tax?  Control.  The 27-year old CEO wants to retain as much control as possible over the continually growing Facebook empire.

Only in the twisted world of taxes could one go from paying what many believe to be the largest tax bill ever to paying no tax at all.  Zuckerberg may not pay any federal income taxes in 2013.  The Facebook Board of Directors, at Zuckerberg’s urging, has reduced his salary to $1 for 2012.