A Qualified Settlement Fund (QSF) is an important tool to settle legal disputes, particularly involving large sums of money. A QSF is a statutory trust/escrow account established to hold and distribute settlement funds to the parties involved in a legal dispute. The purpose of a QSF is to provide a centralized mechanism for the settlement of claims in a fair, efficient, and transparent way.
No, a court does not need to approve a QSF. IRC §468B-1(c)(1) provides that a non-court governmental authority has the power to approve a QSF.
(c) Requirements. A fund, account, or trust satisfies the requirements of this paragraph (c) if -
(1) It is established pursuant to an order of, or is approved by, the United States, any state (including the District of Columbia), territory, possession, or political subdivision thereof, or any agency or instrumentality (including a court of law) of any of the foregoing and is subject to the continuing jurisdiction of that governmental authority;
The approving governmental authority registers the QSF and oversees the administration of the QSF to ensure that it complies with the terms of the settlement agreement and applicable laws and regulations.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also has a role in approving a QSF. For example, the IRS has established rules and procedures for the tax treatment of QSFs and requires certain information or documentation before granting the EIN associated with establishment of a QSF.
The question of whether a court must approve a QSF (or may a non-court governmental authority approve the QSF) is fully settled in the applicable regulations, as they provide that the “United States, any state (including the District of Columbia), territory, possession, or political subdivision thereof, or any agency or instrumentality (including a court of law) of any of the foregoing” may approve a QSF. The approving governmental authority will have a significant role in approving and overseeing the establishment and administration of the QSF.
As noted in a previous article about maximing settlement benefits, using a QSF can provide significant tax benefits to the parties involved in a legal dispute. Under U.S. tax law, if a taxable settlement is paid directly to a plaintiff, it is generally taxable as income. However, suppose the settlement is paid into a QSF. In that case, the funds are not taxable until distributed to the plaintiff. This singular feature provides significant tax planning opportunities for the parties involved in a legal dispute.
To establish a QSF in the United States, the parties involved in a legal dispute must petition the governmental authority to approve the establishment of the QSF. The governmental authority will review the proposed QSF agreement and determine whether it meets the qualification requirements. If the governmental authority approves the QSF, the settlement funds can then be deposited into the QSF and distributed to the parties involved.
It is important to note, however, that the role of the governmental authority in establishing and administrating a QSF can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific facts of the case. In some cases, the governmental authority may be more active in overseeing the QSF. In contrast, in other cases, the governmental authority may approve the establishment of the QSF and leave the fund’s administration to other parties.
In addition to governmental authority approval, a QSF is also subject to oversight by the IRS. The IRS’s involvement is because QSFs are often used to settle disputes involving taxable proceeds liabilities; the IRS is interested in ensuring that the funds in the QSF comply with the applicable tax laws.
The parties involved in a legal dispute must submit an EIN application to the agency to obtain an EIN from the IRS. The IRS’ EIN applicable systems define what an eligible QSF is:
What it is...
All settlement funds must file a Form 1120-SF (U.S. Income Tax Return for Settlement Funds). A settlement fund cannot elect to file a Form 1041 (U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts). If you do not intend to file Form 1120-SF, your organization is not considered a settlement fund.
Note: As shown by the IRS’s website, no “Court Order” is required; suggestions to the contrary do not reconcile with the plain reading of the regulations or the IRS’s clearly stated criteria on their website.
It is important to note that establishing and administering a QSF trust can be complex and may vary depending on the jurisdiction of the approving governmental authority and the specific facts of the case. As such, it is advisable to consult with experienced legal and financial professionals to determine the particular requirements for establishing and administering a QSF in your jurisdiction. Experience tells us using a court to establish a QSF can take months and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs. However, solutions like QSF 360 provide quick, affordable, and straightforward solutions with experienced government agencies.
In addition to tax benefits, there are several other advantages to using a QSF in settling legal disputes. One of the main advantages is that a QSF can provide a centralized mechanism for the settlement of claims, which can help to reduce the administrative burden on the parties involved in the dispute. This feature can be vital in cases involving both single and multiple plaintiffs or defendants or in cases involving complex legal issues.
Another advantage of using a QSF is that it can help to provide a measure of security for the parties involved in the dispute. By depositing the settlement funds into a QSF, the parties can ensure that the funds will be available to pay any future claims or liabilities that may arise. This element can be essential in cases with a risk of future claims or liabilities, such as cases involving product liability or environmental claims (Learn more: QSF vs Environmental Remediation Trust).
While a QSF must be approved by a governmental authority, as defined by the regulations, a court does not need to be involved. Platforms like QSF 360 provide a quick and easy online method to create and administer a QSF without the costs and delays typically associated with court created QSFs.