Understanding the IRS Summons

When an IRS examiner is conducting a tax investigation, he or she has the power to issue an administrative summons to a summonee—generally either the taxpayer who is the subject of the investigation or another third party involved in the case.
A summons is a tool meant to be used by IRS examiners to compel the summonee to turn over information they need for their investigation when they cannot otherwise obtain the information by voluntary means. Summonses are characterized by a level of court enforceability that the standard Information Document Request form (IDR) does not have.
If you refuse to comply with an IRS summons or you ignore the summons, the Justice Department may obtain a court order requiring you to comply or face criminal or civil penalties for contempt.
In theory, an examiner is only allowed to issue a summons if the following criteria are fulfilled:

  • The information they are requesting is essential to their investigation.
  • The subject of the investigation or the third party to whom the examiner wants to issue the summons is unreasonably refusing to cooperate with the investigation.
  • The examiner is unable to easily obtain the needed information elsewhere (such as from filed tax returns or public information).

The examiner has the power to issue a summons to anyone he or she deems necessary, and they may request testimony, books, papers, records, or other relevant data. This gives them broad authority to force otherwise unwilling people involved in a tax investigation to cooperate.
The taxpayer, however, is not without recourse to challenge the summons. In order to quash a summons, the summonee must demonstrate one of the following criteria:

  • His or her books have already been examined
  • The tax years that are the subject of the investigation are outside the statute of limitations
  • The summons violates the summonee’s constitutional or common law rights, such as the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure or Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination
  • That the summons has been issued for an improper purpose

A summons is a serious step taken by the IRS that could have major consequences for you if you do not comply. However, you may be able to fight back against a summons with the help of a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer. The law firm of Weisberg, Kainen, Mark, PL will work on your behalf to contest the summons when appropriate, and to ensure that your rights are protected. If you are facing an IRS summons, or the IRS has issued a summons regarding your tax investigation to a third-party, please give us a call.

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Weisberg Kainen Mark, PL

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