What Is an IRS Summons?

Renee Booker

The Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, is the United States' agency which is responsible for the collection of all federal taxes. United States taxpayers are required to file a return which determines the person's, or company's, tax liability. Compliance with the federal tax laws in the United States is required; however, the manner by which taxpayer's report income and determine liability is largely voluntary. As a result, there are abuses of the system by taxpayers which requires the IRS to issue an IRS summons in an effort to gain records that will help to determine the correct tax liability of the taxpayer. The recipient of an IRS summons is legally obligated to comply with the summons or face potential legal consequences.

Contempt of court charges can be filed if a person does not obey an IRS summons.
Contempt of court charges can be filed if a person does not obey an IRS summons.

A summons is a legal document which is generally issued by a judge. In some cases, U.S. law authorizes an administrative agency, such as the IRS, to issue a summons without prior approval of a judge. A summons directs the recipient to appear at a specified date and time, and/or to produce records or documents listed in the summons.

If a defendant is unable to appear in court for a summons, he or she must file for a continuance in a timely manner.
If a defendant is unable to appear in court for a summons, he or she must file for a continuance in a timely manner.

When the IRS has reason to believe that a taxpayer is being less than forthcoming regarding income, expenditures, or deductions, it may issue an IRS summons. People or entities which may be the recipient of an IRS summons include the taxpayer, an employee, or officer of the taxpayer, or other custodian of records for the taxpayer. In addition, the IRS "catch-all" basically allows anyone who might have relevant information to be issued a summons.

The IRS has the authority to issue an IRS summons requesting any relevant information which may help the agency determine or collect a taxpayer's tax liability, or to help the agency make a return when a person or entity has failed to file a return. The IRS may also summons records that may show a violation of any IRS laws or regulations. In essence, the IRS has broad powers to summons both people and records or documents.

If the recipient of a summons does not believe that he or she has a legal obligation to appear or to produce the requested records, the advise of an attorney is suggested. Ignoring an IRS summons can result in a warrant being issued for the recipient's arrest or contempt of court charges. There are, however, reasons why information in a summons may not have to be produced, such as privilege or the right against self-incrimination.

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