capital asset

New tax law impacts M&A in a way you would not expect

I wanted to give you a heads up in the case you had not already seen this that the new tax law has a hidden issue related to M&A.  Since it is so new there is no Code section to refer to, but Paragraph 1504 of the new law adds to the list of assets that are excluded from the definition of capital assets.


Prior law excluded copyrights, literary, musical, or artistic compositions, letters or memoranda, or similar property from the definition of a capital asset if the asset is held either by the taxpayer who created the property, or a taxpayer for whom the property was produced.  Seldom in M&A do we see these assets being transferred.  The new law however changes this considerably.  The new law adds to this list patents, inventions, model or design, and a secret formula or process which is held by the taxpayer who created the property (or for whom the property was created).

The added items are encountered many time in the sale of a business.  The problem is that these items are intangibles and the value of these items have, historically been included in the portion of the purchase price that is allocated to goodwill.  Goodwill is a capital asset, and therefore subject to capital gains tax, whereas the previously mentioned items are not capital assets if the sale occurs in 2018 or later and must be excluded from goodwill value.  This give us an opportunity and creates some danger.  The opportunity is now we have another category of purchase price we can negotiate, the danger is if we do not separately state the allocation to these assets and they accidentally end up in the goodwill allocation the IRS could, upon audit make a sizable adjustment for the portion of the goodwill that they deem to be the value of these excluded items.  Fair Market Value in a sale between unrelated parties is whatever they agree upon.  If they do not agree then the IRS will have the ability to create a value.  In most cases the value of a business in excess of the value of its tangible personal or real property is considered “goodwill”.  This represents the value of the cash flow in excess of the tangible asset value.  If the business makes its money from the production of a product that has a patent or uses a secret formula then much of this excess value may actually be attributable to the patent or secret formula, which would render that portion of the purchase price subject to ordinary income tax rates and not be treated as capital gains.  If the value of these excluded assets are separately stated and the value is agreed to in the purchase agreement the IRS would have a hard time adjusting it.

The bottom line is if the business possesses any of the excluded assets it would be wise to allocate a negotiated portion of the purchase price to this class of assets.

Let me know if I can help further.

Harold F. Ingersoll, CPA/ABV/CFF, CVA, CM&AA

Partner at Atchley & Associates, LLP