The 90-day post termination of employment exercise period for stock options is under attack.
Why is the 90-day rule problematic? Because if you are fired, or quit, and you do not have the funds to exercise your stock options within 90 days of termination, you lose them.
Some people might ask the following technical question:
What if I have an ISO? Doesn’t it have to prohibit me from exercising beyond 3 months of my termination of employment or it is not an ISO?
This is a good question, for sure.
You can find the answer the plain language of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 422(a) says the following:
Section 421(a) shall apply with respect to the transfer of a share of stock to an individual pursuant to his exercise of an incentive stock option if—
(1) no disposition of such share is made by him within 2 years from the date of the granting of the option nor within 1 year after the transfer of such share to him, and
(2) at all times during the period beginning on the date of the granting of the option and ending on the day 3 months before the date of such exercise, such individual was an employee of either the corporation granting such option, a parent or subsidiary corporation of such corporation, or a corporation or a parent or subsidiary corporation of such corporation issuing or assuming a stock option in a transaction to which section 424(a) applies.
In other words, you don’t qualify for the benefits of incentive stock options under the statute if you exercise beyond 3 months after termination of employment. But that doesn’t mean your stock option couldn’t have a 10 year exercise period–be styled as an ISO–and just tell you that if you exercise later than 3 months after your employment ends the option will be treated as a nonqualified stock option.
There is also a discussion of this at BenefitsLink.com.
One misconception relates to the 3-month period for exercise. Many employers understand, mistakenly, that the ISO rules require expiration of the ISO at the end of this period. The rule is not that strict. An option could be exercisable for more than 3 months after termination of service; it simply would not qualify for ISO status if it is exercised more than 3 months after termination of employment for a reason other than disability or death.
This blog post does not constitute legal or tax advice.