Does an innocent party need the services of a tax attorney? Maybe not, but hiring a professional is certainly a wise consideration.
A tax attorney helps as a buffer between taxpayers and the IRS tax lien. Whether the taxpayers being questioned are individuals or businesses, the underlying cause of the dispute is often a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of tax law.
To answer the question of whether an innocent party — someone who didn’t knowingly or purposely go against the law — needs to hire a tax attorney, you’ll need to answer a few other questions first.
1. Will further misunderstandings be more or less likely without the involvement of a third party?
For anyone that hasn’t studied and worked directly with the IRS, the language of the law can be confusing, at best. Even literary scholars and other professionals can find the details complicated and difficult to interpret. What’s more, any guides to laws regarding taxes come with a standard disclaimer that releases the authors and publishers from any responsibility if you happen to follow their interpretations of the law and related guidance. Why is that? They realize that any interpretation is potentially flawed, and you could follow their professional advice and still get in trouble with the IRS.
With that kind of common scenario in view, the likelihood of continued miscommunication between the taxpayer and the IRS seem almost inevitable without the participation of a third party that’s not a stranger to dealing with the government.
2. Is winging it and going it alone worth the risk?
Unlike most legal infringements in the United States, breaking laws relating to the IRS don’t carry the typical “innocent until proven guilty” concept. Instead, once an individual or business has been red-flagged, for whatever reason, the onus or burden of proof lies on the accused.
Being “guilty until proven innocent” means that unless you acquire legal representation that can prove your innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, you’re looking at jail time, hefty fees, or both. When the onus is on your end and the stakes are high, it probably won’t make sense to risk representing yourself in court. However, you’re the only one that can make that choice.
3. What is true innocence, according to the law?
Often, people confuse innocence with ignorance. Imagine telling a police officer or the judge in traffic court that you didn’t realize that a flashing red light was like stop sign, or that you didn’t know what the word “yield” meant. Not only would you be laughed out of court, but you’d be held responsible for the infraction, nonetheless. The same is true regarding the IRS.
While admittedly, the wording of many IRS publications is much less cut-and-dried than the straightforward meanings of traffic lights and signs, ignorance or misunderstanding of the law is just as inexcusable.
To play it safe, make sure you’re asking the right questions and then meet with a tax attorney to discuss the details of your case.