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We have distilled decades of experience at the intersection of law, business and finance into a suite of articles to help our clients make sense of business valuation, forensic accounting, and litigation support. Please visit our site regularly for our latest content.

The business valuation and forensic accounting disciplines often intersect when valuing a business for divorce or shareholder dispute. Controlling shareholders may try to hide assets or downplay cash flow to minimize buyouts of their spouses or minority shareholders. As valuation experts we know how to approach these situations to unearth and adjust for the common and uncommon financial misstatements.   Look Beyond The Financials Financial statements and tax returns are often the first source of information to analyze when valuing a business. But it’s also important to look for public sources of information, as well as to conduct site visits and management interviews. These steps can be especially important in adversarial situations to ensure that controlling shareholders (1) aren’t hiding assets, (2) underreporting income, or (3) overstating liabilities and expenses. Nowadays, a simple internet and/or social media search can help reveal financial misstatement. In a more traditional sense, a review of the detailed accounting general ledgers can provide valuable information.  In a recent shareholder dispute between two brothers we uncovered a fictitious foreign entity.  In this instance, payments to this entity were used by one brother to divert profits and funds from the other.  But for our analysis and inquiry to explain a sudden decrease in gross profit margins, this diversion many never had been discovered. Aside from the traditional financial review, there are three things you, the litigation attorney, should consider: Get your financial expert involved early on. Pay attention to warning signs. Don’t be hesitant to expand the […]

Many of you may know that I am an Adjunct Professor at Fordham Law School.  This past weeks lecture included a discussion of normalization adjustments to be considered when utilizing the income approach in a business valuation.  As I was presenting my talking points I remembered a lecturer I gave for the Internal Revenue Service many years ago.  During that lecture on tax issues concerning closely-held businesses, I proudly stated that I could show business owners how to avoid (not evade) corporate income taxes by modifying shareholder-employee compensation before year-end.  As you can imagine, my remarks were not warmly greeted by the IRS representatives in the audience. The IRS and closely-held business owners often disagree about the reasonableness of shareholder-employee compensation.  This disagreement is found in both income tax and business valuation instances. For income tax purposes, business owners usually prefer to classify payments as tax-deductible wages because it lowers its federal taxable income and corporate taxes. But, if the IRS believes that an owner’s compensation is excessive, it may claim that payments are disguised dividends, which aren’t tax deductible. The determination and application of reasonable shareholder-employee compensation is also often a contested issue in business valuation.  When shareholder-employee’s compensation is overstated, the available cash flow is often lower and the indicated value (under the income approach) is less.  For this and other reasons, the determination of officer compensation is often a contested adjustment. Whether this conflict is between the taxing authority or an opposing valuation expert, the case law […]

  Splitting up a marital estate can be a long and complicated process, particularly if one of the assets includes a privately owned business. Fortunately, a valuation analyst can assist attorneys and their clients address these issues – even at the early stages of the matrimonial action. These preliminary issues often include, but may not be limited to: How much is the business actually worth? Do you need to be concerned about the issue of “double dipping” when considering the valuation of a business and the money spouses support obligations? Is the spouse that owns and operates the business deceptive when it comes to reporting his/her income? In this blog post we quickly discuss these three issues.  For those of us that travel down this road often – you know that the totality of the financial concerns in a matrimonial matter can be significant. How much is the business actually worth? There are three methods used to value a business: the asset, market and income approaches. All of these techniques start with the analysis of the company’s financial statements. But discovery shouldn’t stop there, especially for spouses who aren’t involved in day-to-day business operations. Valuation experts should be given equal access to financial records and opportunities to tour the company’s facilities and interview management. Inadequate discovery can cause an expert to miss critical information and possibly lead to an inaccurate conclusion of value. If the business interest was owned prior the marriage, it might be appropriate to include only the […]

Challenges In Valuing Family Owned Businesses

Posted in Business Valuation, on Jan 2018, By: Mark S. Gottlieb

  Family-owned businesses aren’t usually run like large public companies. From the Rockefellers to the Kardashians, working together can bring out the best – and worst – in families. Here are four key issues to consider when valuing these entities. 1- Are family members on the payroll? The terms “family business” and “nepotism” often go hand in hand. Although some business owners hire family members because they’re perceived as more trustworthy, many hire them out of obligation or to satisfy a desire to pass the business on to their offspring. When valuing family-owned entities, business appraisers objectively consider whether family members are qualified for their positions and whether their compensation is reasonable. In some cases, management of a hypothetical buyer might want to consolidate family members’ positions and use fewer people to perform their duties. As a result, valuation professionals often make an upward adjustment to cash flow to reflect the excess expense of employing relatives. But the reverse may also be true. Some family businesses overwork or underpay related parties. Consider, for example, business owners whose passion for their work and desire to succeed lead them to work exceptionally long hours. When evaluating a related party’s compensation, experts look beyond the family member’s base pay. For example, they must also adjust for payroll taxes, benefits and extraneous perks. Perks may include such things as allowances for luxury vehicles, country club memberships or loans at below-market interest rates. 2 – Are there other related-party transactions? Family-owned businesses may engage in […]

Welcome To The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act

Posted in Business Valuation, on Jan 2018, By: Mark S. Gottlieb

I know that 2018 has begun with frigid temperatures for those of us in the Northeast, but I want you to get up from your desk, open up your office window and listen to what’s happening outside. That galloping sound you hear isn’t construction work, it isn’t local traffic, or planes flying above. It is the masses of divorcing couples, business owners, and retirement minded individuals running to their matrimonial, estate and corporate attorneys. On December 22, 2017 Congress passed and President Trump signed into law The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (hereafter, “the Act”). The Act is the most significant change to the current tax law in three decades. In its most simplistic terms the Act (1) lowers individual and corporate tax rates, (2) eliminates multiple tax credits and deductions, (3) increases the child tax credit, and (4) repeals the healthcare individual mandate penalty. Matrimonial and Family Law Attorneys should be aware that for those that separate and/or divorce after December 31, 2018 alimony payments will no longer be taxable to the recipient or deductible by the payer. Gift and Estate Attorneys should note that the estate and gift tax exclusion amounts have doubled after December 31, 2017 and before January 1, 2026. Corporate Attorneys should know that the corporate income tax rate has been simplified to a flat 21 percent and that owners of pass-through entities will be taxed at a 20 percent income reduction calculation. So the question you may be asking is: Why is a boutique […]

Unless you were buried alive during this week’s snowstorm, you probably heard that Donald Trump’s 2005 individual income tax return has been disclosed.  To date, no one has taken responsibility for its discovery, except for the journalist who found it on his doorstep.  Many of the talking heads and late night comedians have discussed and joked about the return, or more accurately its first two pages.  Few, if any, have discussed what the return partially states or even means in regards to President Trump’s reported income and/or assets.   Granted, this information is incomplete and may pose more questions than answers.  However, this exercise is not uncommon for a forensic accountant engaged in analyzing an individual income tax return in a business dispute or matrimonial action.  This discussion is non-partisan.  Truthfully, the subject matter could be about anyone.  But you are reading this blog post because it applies to the current President of the United States. Let this be a primer for those of you that are commercial or family law litigators. Form 1040 is the long form federal individual income tax return filed annually by individuals. You can obtain a full copy of this (blank) form and its instructions here. This particular filing is for the year 2005, which is 12 years prior to Mr. Trump becoming President.  It is fair to say that if President Trump voluntarily submitted his returns for public review, he probably would not have provided a return filed so many years ago. Here is […]

Proposed Changes to IRC Section 2704

Posted in Business Valuation, on Oct 2016, By: Mark S. Gottlieb

Introduction MarketWatch recently published an article outlining a report written by the global wealth consultancy, Wealth-X, and the insurance brokerage and consulting firm, NFP, which predicts that ultra-high-net-worth individuals will transfer $3.9 trillion to the next generation by 2026.The article writes that this massive global transfer, which it describes as the largest wealth transfer in history, has already begun. It states that, as of last year, ultrahigh-net-worth individuals 80 years of age or older are, on average, seven times wealthier than those 30 years of age or younger. These older, extremely deep-pocketed individuals are now in a position to transfer wealth to their family members. As the article writes, a recent survey conducted by Knight Frank found that the biggest concerns for these individuals are “succession and inheritance issues,” which likely derive in part from the complicated regulations imposed by the Internal Revenue Service. These concerns were likely amplified in the beginning of August 2016 by the official IRS release of the proposed changes to Internal Revenue Code § 2704, which handles rules for valuation discounts that affect transfers of family-owned equity interests or partnerships. The recently proposed changes to Internal Revenue Code § 2704 would affect not only the superrich, but anyone planning to transfer an interest in a family-owned corporation or partnership to a family member. These regulations would eliminate valuation discounts for transfer interests and likely limit the financial benefit of these transfers. The best strategy for an individual planning to transfer interests in a family business […]

Detecting Financial Statement Fraud

Posted in Financial Advisory, on Sep 2016, By: Mark S. Gottlieb

Recently, Bloomberg reported that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is under investigation for potential securities fraud after being accused of inflating U.S. car sales. The company is said to have coordinated a scheme in which individual dealers were paid to create false sales reports, thereby exaggerating financial performance and deceiving investors. Unfortunately, instances of fraudulent financial reporting such as this one have become somewhat commonplace among corporations under pressure to meet earning expectations or to conceal declining financial performance. Fraudulent financial reporting is any intentional misstatement of, or omission from, the financial statements of a company with the purpose of misleading the statement users. The complexity of financial statement fraud has garnered significant attention over the past decade.  It has become clear that there are a variety of subtle methods used to manipulate expenses and revenues that are not easy to detect without knowledge of the necessary analytical tools. In 2002, following a series of major corporate financial fraud scandals, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act which enacted strict reforms to financial reporting standards in the hopes of protecting investors from potential fraudulent accounting activities. In spite of these new standards, the number of fraud cases, as well as the dollar value of false financial reporting’s, has continued to rise for the past 14 years. Most cases of financial statement fraud take the form of either improper revenue recognition, misstatement of assets, liabilities or expenses. It is nearly impossible to trace the source of every revenue stream, verify the existence of all reported […]

Weighting Different Methods To Determine Value

Posted in Business Valuation, on Sep 2016, By: Mark S. Gottlieb

Unity Technologies, a previously nondescript software development company, has grown significantly in value over the past few months with the release of the viral mobile app, Pokémon Go, which was created using Unity’s software. The company has recently been valued at around $1.5 billion. This consensus comes from an amalgamation of different data including the company’s past financial performance, trends in the market, and the company’s owned resources. In performing this or any other valuation one needs to decide the relevancy of each type of data. For instance, Unity’s past performance may be a good prediction of the company’s potential but does not account for the growing market for programs that produce augmented reality, an area in which Unity specializes. These considerations are an important aspect of business valuation. In a typical business valuation, the analyst will often use three general valuation approaches: (1) the income approach, (2) the market approach, and (3) the asset approach. Each of these approaches uses different data to estimate the value of the subject company, which inevitably results in slight disparities between the outcomes. In order to come to a consensus on value, the analyst must decide how to weight each outcome. There is no official formula for calculating weights in business valuation. In fact, Revenue Ruling 59-60 of the Internal Revenue Code states: “Because valuations cannot be made on the basis of a prescribed formula, there is no means whereby the various applicable factors in a particular case can be assigned mathematical weights in […]

Discretionary Expenses in Business Valuations

Posted in Business Valuation, on Jun 2016, By: Mark S. Gottlieb

(Reading time: Under 2 minutes) In an episode of the critically acclaimed sitcom, Arrested Development, aspiring magician and underachieving employee of the Bluth family business, G.O.B Bluth, tells his brother, Michael, “I figured out a way to make money while I’m working.” Michael, the work-oriented and responsible Bluth brother, replies, “But that is what we call working.” G.O.B. rarely performs work that adds to the value of the business, but, as a member of the Bluth family and officer of the Bluth Company, he is on the company payroll. His salary is an example of a discretionary expense that can affect the understanding of the company’s value. Business owners typically have a fair amount of flexibility to choose how they compensate themselves and their officers. The IRS mandates that the officers of a corporation, including the CEO, president, vice president, and any other shareholder employees, must be paid a “reasonable compensation” for their labor, but what qualifies as “reasonable” is left unclear. Depending on the nature of the business in question, there could be many factors that affect the level of compensation chosen for the business’s shareholders, including the following: When possible, companies tend to pay their officers wages that reduce taxes. For example, a C corporation might increase their shareholder’s compensation, and eliminate dividends, to avoid double taxation, while an S corporation might decrease their shareholder’s compensation in order to reduce payroll taxes. The shareholders may be receiving deferred compensation that was earned in previous years when the company […]