As you may know, an aircraft owner may use a limited liability company (“LLC”) to register and hold title to the owner’s aircraft. An LLC is formed by filing articles of organization with Secretary of State (or equivalent) in the state in which the LLC is organized. The LLC has members who hold/own membership interests in the company that are represented by the members’ capital accounts. The LLC may be managed by managers or it may be managed by the LLC member(s).
An LLC is a type of business entity that has distinct legal personality from its owner(s)/member(s) and managers. An LLC is treated as a separate “person” in the eyes of the law with an independent existence from its members. Thus, if the owner/member of an LLC dies, the entity continues to exist (although an LLC needs to specifically elect to have this continuity of existence).
However, once set up, the laws governing LLCs require that certain formalities be observed (e.g. annual meetings, separate checking accounts, maintaining corporate/company books and records, filing annual renewals/registrations etc.). If the LLC does not comply with those formalities, it is possible that the law will not recognize the LLC as a separate “person” and will look to the LLC’s members or managers to personally honor the LLC’s obligations. This is called “piercing the corporate veil.” Not only is this a bad situation for the LLC members, this concept is frequently confused with the Internal Revenue Service’s treatment of an LLC as a “disregarded entity.”
Although an LLC is a “legal entity”, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) does not treat an LLC as a “tax entity.” Rather, the IRS “disregards” LLCs for federal tax purposes as if the entity does not exist. Most LLCs with a single member are taxed as a sole proprietorship, while a multi-member LLC is usually taxed as a partnership. In some cases, the LLC can elect to be treated as an “S” corporation if the LLC satisfies certain criteria.
As a disregarded entity, a single-member LLC does not file an income tax return or report income, loss, deduction, or credit. Instead, the LLC member incorporates these tax items into the member’s tax return. Similarly, a multi-member LLC’s members and the members of an LLC that has elected “S” corporation tax status would report on their respective tax returns.
If you are using an LLC to own an aircraft, keep in mind that the IRS’s disregard of your LLC for tax purposes does not relieve you of your responsibility to comply with the formalities required by the laws applicable to LLCs. Failure to comply with the formalities can negate the personal liability protection otherwise afforded to an LLC’s members, and can also render the aircraft’s registration invalid. So, it is important to pay attention to both the tax and the legal aspects applicable to your LLC to take advantage of the benefits of owning an aircraft with an LLC.