There is an old adage that states “Just because you can do something-doesn’t mean you should.” This sage advice certainly applies to choosing a qualified intermediary to facilitate a 1031 like-kind exchange. The use of a qualified intermediary is essential to completing a successful 1031 exchange because, while the process of completing an exchange is straightforward, the rules are complicated and loaded with potential pitfalls for the exchanger if the exchange is not properly prepared.
To simplify the discussion and underscore the potential challenges of selecting a qualified intermediary, let’s identify parties who cannot act as a qualified intermediary. This list is relatively short and essentially disqualifies those who have acted in some advisory capacity for your company during the two years prior to a potential exchange:
- Section 1031 of the Tax Code, with certain limited exceptions, prohibits exchanges where the taxpayer intends to acquire replacement property from a related party. Related Party is defined in I.R.C. § 267(b) or 707(b)(1) and generally covers exchanges between family members as well as exchanges between other entities where there is a high commonality of ownership. Related Parties – Including certain family members and business entities with shared/common ownership.
- Agents – Including individuals that have provided services to the exchanging taxpayer as an employee, attorney, accountant, investment banker or broker within the two year period ending on the date of the transfer of the first of the relinquished properties.
Aside from the above, virtually anyone can legally act in the capacity of a qualified intermediary, and therein lies the potential for disaster.
I spoke about 1031 exchanges recently at a conference where one of the attendees, an equipment dealer who had advised a customer on their like-kind exchange, stated his belief that the only requirement for a qualified intermediary was that they be a third party who could hold the money from the sale of the relinquished equipment until the seller requires the money for the purchase of replacement property.
While it's true that any third party can legally provide the service outlined above, they'll likely fall short of providing a properly-structured 1031 exchange that satisfies the Internal Revenue Service's safe harbor guidelines. I inquired further:
When the color returned to his face and the nausea had passed, the equipment dealer uttered the far too common response of someone who had purported to serve as a qualified intermediary but was not one. “All we did was hold the money and then forward it to the seller when it came time to buy.”
Like-kind exchanges offer sellers of used equipment a tremendous opportunity to reinvest in funds that would otherwise be lost to taxes, but in order to enjoy this benefit exchangers must follow a document and deadline driven process. When engaging a qualified intermediary, be certain that they understand the necessary documents, steps, and safe harbors that are inherent in Section 1031. Doing so will result in a properly-structured and secure exchange.