How to Deal With an IRS Summons

The IRS Summons

I get calls from taxpayers – often in a panic – that they just received a scary document from the IRS. It’s called a summons. As scary as it may be, the summons can be resolved in a variety of ways.

First, an IRS Summons is an investigative tool used by Revenue Officers in civil tax investigations, Special Agent in criminal investigations, as well as all IRS enforcement divisions to gather information. The IRS has broad statutory authority to examine tax returns and to obtain information such as the production of books and records, or the testimony of witnesses. 

If you receive a summons, you are required to appear at the time and place specified or permit the agent to have or make copies of the documents requested. However, understand that the authority of the IRS to issue a summons has limits. And the IRS can, and does, overstep its limits from time to time. And even when they don’t overstep their limits, strategies can be deployed to reach a resolution with the IRS over what information they are requesting.

Resolving an IRS Summons

Look, sometimes the path of least resistance and damage to the taxpayer is to simply give the IRS what it wants. This assumes that producing the requested information is not harming or jeopardizing my client in some way.

One common response to a summons is to request clarification of the IRS requests and suggest alternative approaches. I will simply as the IRS Revenue Officer why the summons was issued in the first place. This can establish good will and be more productive than contesting imprecise or improper requests.  

Defending an IRS Summons

Another less common response is to object to the summons and force the IRS to get an Order from a U.S. District Court to enforce it. To enforce a summons, the IRS must petition a U. S. District Court and establish the following:

  1. The examination to which the summons relates is being conducted for a legitimate purpose;
  2. The summons is seeking information that is relevant to that purpose;
  3. The IRS is not already in possession of the requested information; and
  4. All administrative steps required by the Internal Revenue Code have been followed.

But the taxpayer can challenge the summons based on the IRS not meeting any of these requirements. Or that the summons is simply being issue in bad faith. It’s vital that some credible evidence be offered to support the taxpayer’s claim of improper motive. Circumstantial evidence can suffice to meet that burden, such as an IRS employee who has a personal axe to grind with the taxpayer. The taxpayer need only present a plausible basis for his charge.

You, the taxpayer, can also argue the summons violates your legal privileges such as attorney-client privilege, attorney work product doctrine, Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

You, the taxpayer, can also argue that you do not possess the documents, or the documents do not exist.

The bottom line: The IRS summons can usually be resolved in a way that serves the interests of my client while satisfying the IRS. However, if it’s necessary to fight the government, then you cannot back down and the courts will provide relief when it can be established that the IRS has overstepped its bounds.

If you received any scary communications from the IRS, of if you have any tax questions, I would love to talk with you. Call me for free at 800 659 0525.