To be valid, joint income tax return must be signed by both spouses, Tax Court holds

Tax Hot Topics: Signing of joint income tax returnFor a jointly filed income tax return to be valid, both spouses must sign the return, the Tax Court ruled in Reifler v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2015-199 (Oct. 13, 2015).

In the case, the taxpayers, a married couple, jointly filed income tax returns for the tax years 2000 through 2005. The IRS examined their returns and asserted penalties under Section 6651, which relate to a failure to file or pay tax in a timely way, for their 2000 return, claiming the return was not filed in a timely way because it was not signed by both spouses.

The taxpayers filed a valid extension of time to file the return and ultimately filed the return before Oct. 15, 2001.  However, soon after they filed the return, the IRS sent it back to them with some red markings on it. When the IRS receives a return that lacks a valid, legal signature, agents are directed to send the return back to the taxpayer via Form 3531, according to Internal Revenue Manual Taxpayers are typically given a brief period to return the signed return to the IRS and still have it deemed filed in a timely way.

In the Reifler case, the taxpayers apparently didn’t send back the signed return. They argued that while both of them had not signed the return, they had substantially complied with the law, and that the spouse who didn’t sign the return had tacitly consented to the filing of the return. The Tax Court rejected both of these arguments, stating that signatures on a tax return “not only verify that a return has indeed been filed by the person indicated on the front page of a Form 1040 but also certify that all the statements in the tax return are made under penalty of perjury and are true, correct, and complete to the best of the taxpayer’s knowledge.”


David Auclair
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Shamik Trivedi
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