Signing Inaccurate Tax Returns – (Q & A)

Oct 2017


Dear Rick:
About three years ago I wrote you about my tax situation. My new husband was self-employed and didn’t want to report any of his income. He basically was claiming that his business made no money. You told me I should not sign the tax return and to file as a married person filing separately, which I did. About a year ago for lots of reasons, we got divorced. The IRS has recently caught up with my ex and he now owes a substantial amount in taxes and penalties to the IRS. His attorney has reached out to me and wants me to file an amended return with my ex. He claims that it won’t cost me any money and that it will save my ex some money which he would share with me. I have nothing against my ex and if I can help him, why not. My question to you is what do you think I should do?


Dear R.W.A.:
I think it is great that you want to help out your ex-husband; however, you have to be very careful how you proceed. First, let’s not forget that your ex-husband’s attorney represents him and only him. His job is to look out for your ex-husband, not to look out for you. Therefore, at a minimum, you need to sit down with a tax professional who works for you and only you, to determine if what the attorney is telling you is accurate. I would not take his word for it or trust anyone else who is representing your ex-husband. Again, I would only trust the people you hire who work for you, and only you.

It is important to understand the risk you are taking if you file an amended return. Because you will be signing the return along with your ex-husband, you’re also assuming potential future liabilities. If the IRS decided to audit that return and they discovered additional taxes are owed, you could be held liable. Remember, the IRS can audit the return at a minimum for three years after you file your return. Therefore, you can be on the hook for additional taxes for at least another three years.

All said and done, despite you wanting to help your ex-husband, I probably would lean toward not filing an amended return. It doesn’t seem to me that it’s worth the risk you would be assuming and it’s not like your ex has clean hands. He intentionally chose not to report his taxes and as a result, he does have to suffer the consequences. I know this sound harsh; however, as adults we are responsible for our actions and there’s no reason for you to unnecessarily assume additional risk and potential liability. Therefore, my advice: walk away.

It is extremely difficult to tell a spouse that you will not sign a joint tax return when you know it is intentionally inaccurate. However, that is what you must do. If you sign a return that is inaccurate and the IRS assesses taxes, interest and penalties, you can be held personally responsible. It doesn’t matter that your spouse caused the problem; the fact that you signed the return makes you liable. That may not be fair; however, who said tax law had to be fair?

We have what are known as innocent spouse laws which do provide some protection for spouses who unwittingly sign inaccurate returns. However, the law doesn’t cover everyone and it is somewhat difficult to comply with. Therefore, the better course of action is to not sign an inaccurate return until you know the mistake is corrected.

Good luck!


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