Returning to the purpose of this post:
The question asked by Stephen Kish is how should Caroline be advised. Mr. Reed proposes two interpretations of S. 877A which he calls the “literal approach” and the “common sense” approach. One problem of reading articles written by the tax compliance community is, that by focusing on the theoretical, they minimize the “real life” consequences to the people they advise. So, what are the “real life consequences?” The “literal approach” results in the destruction of your life. The common sense approach means that you still have a life. (Which do you think is the better approach?)
Here is why.
Rather than frame the issue as “the literal approach” vs. the “common sense approach”, the issue should be framed as:
Approach 1 – Your Life Is Over: Under this “literal” interpretation of S. 877A, you poor dumb former American will have to turn your life savings over to the IRS (and pay the adviser to help you do this) because you did not go out and obtain a CLN. It doesn’t matter that a CLN was not required by law. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t know what one was. It doesn’t matter that the U.S. Government was threatening you with the loss of your U.S.citizenship if you became Canadian. It doesn’t matter that in some cases the U.S. was denying entry to the USA to those who had become Canadians. What matters is ONLY that this is what the statute says NOW!!!!!!! So, you better step right up and turn your life savings over to the IRS.
Approach 2 – It’s Your LIfe! Why don’t you keep it!: Let some “common sense” prevail. You were one of the smart ones. Because you relinquished U.S. citizenship – according to the clear laws of the USA in the 1970s – you are not affected by this new law. The only people affected by this new law are the “dumb bunnies” who decided it was a good idea to be a U.S. citizen AND were U.S. citizens when this law took effect on June 16, 2008. I don’t think you should draw attention to yourself. You might want to document the circumstances that led to your becoming a Canadian citizen in 1978. When documenting those circumstances, you probably should make it clear that you were intending to relinquish U.S. citizenship. But, either way you have to sleep. So, you might as well – Sleep well!. There is no good reason to turn your assets over to the IRS and pay your adviser to help you do it.
A fair reading of the legal commentary on this issue appears to be:
One group of lawyers (including the three who commented on this article) do NOT believe that the “literal” (or as Michael Miller says, the “absurd”) approach is correct.
A second group of lawyers thinks that the “literal” approach MIGHT be correct. But, they aren’t really sure. Even though they are not sure, for reasons known only to them, they usher clients into turning their assets over to the IRS. Hmmmm, …
Given the existing commentary and lack of certainty (on the part of those who recognize the “literal approach”), what I can’t understand is:
1. How any adviser could possibly advise a client that the “literal” approach is correct (turn your assets over to the IRS). Yet, we know that a very large number of people are being advised to do just that. (Note that, since June 16, 2008 a CLN is most certainly required lose U.S. tax subjectness. But NOT before.)
2. How any client, given the existence of conflicting views, could possibly allow themselves to be guided into accepting that they should turn their assets over to the IRS. (Actually I know the answer. It’s because there is ONLY one certainty in life. If you turn over all your assets to the IRS, then you will never have tax problems again. But, you won’t have a life either and then you will have a different set of tax problems.)
This reality notwithstanding:
There is/are a large number of people who clearly relinquished U.S. citizenship many years before the current laws, who have allowed themselves to be guided into the “literal appraoch” – turning their assets over to the IRS.
Conclusion: The result that you get will be determined by your choice of adviser. Think about it!