By B. Paul Husband
One of the significant holdings in Van Dusen was that indirect supervision of the work by the 501(c)(3) charity can suffice to support deductibility of unreimbursed out of pocket expenses from volunteers. The Court stated: “Nothing in Section 170 or [relevant] regulations suggests that, as a condition to the deductibility of unreimbursed service-related expenses, the services must be performed under the control or supervision of a charitable organization. . . .”
One of the keys to winning as much as she did was that some of the receipts were itemized. The itemized receipts were given substantial deference by the Court.
Saved by The Yankee Doodle Dandy
The Van Dusen Court utilized the Cohan Rule in a fair manner. The Cohan Rule is named for the great American composer/lyricist, George M. Cohan, who wrote songs like “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” In addition to his contributions to American musical comedy and patriotism, he made his mark in American tax law in Cohan v. Commissioner, 39 F.2d 540 (2d. Cir. 1930). He challenged the stringent IRS substantiation requirements. Judge Learned Hand wrote the just and enduring opinion. The Cohan Rule provides that, even if the substantiation is incomplete, if some factual basis is provided for the Court to base a finding, a Court may make inferences to support granting of deductions. Ms. Van Dusen may not have kept the records exactly as she should have kept them, and she did not have everything she should have had, but she did prove what a bag of kitty litter cost, and she showed by receipts that she typically bought eight bags at a time. The Tax Court found that was enough to invoke the Cohan rule.
Van Dusen successfully proved up the cost of kitty litter
The Court expressly found Van Dusen to be credible witness. The evidence reflected that Van Dusen had about seven pet cats and about 70 to 80 feral “foster” cats in 2004. She argued that the foster cats consumed a greater percentage of the veterinary care than her pet cats, on a pro rata basis. However, she did not have specific proof and therefore the Court only allowed a pro-rata portion of the veterinary expenses as deductions -- 90% with respect to the veterinary, pet food and pet supply expenses. Specific testimony would have helped.
It is fair to infer that unreimbursed expenses incurred in volunteer work for qualified 501(c)(3) charities which benefit horses, dogs and other animals would be treated the same way by the Tax Court.
The bottom line is: keep records, keep records, keep records, and for amounts in excess of $250 be sure you get a written acknowledgment from the charity before you file your tax return.
©B. Paul Husband 2012