The Tax Court decided in favor of the Internal Revenue Service in a case involving a tax return in which a couple filed jointly, but one of the spouses was battling mental illness and didn't sign the return.

According to the Tax Court's February memo on the case, Moss v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2017-30, Peter Moss timely filed a joint 2008 return that his wife refused to sign. The return was accompanied by a letter stating that his wife was seriously mentally ill, and the IRS should disregard all information she sent. He did not attach any power of attorney that would authorize him to act on behalf of his wife, who did in fact file her own return as married filing separately.

Mrs. Moss had previously been hospitalized for mental illness, and was under the delusion that she had been defrauded by Bernie Madoff. She claimed a nonexistent loss of $350,000 on her separate return.

The IRS changed Mr. Moss’s filing status to married filing separately, and issued him a notice of deficiency. The Tax Court agreed with the IRS, ruling that Mr. Moss was not entitled to file claiming married filing jointly status.

Because Mrs. Moss did not sign the return, the Tax Court found the couple did not comply with the requirements for a joint return under Reg. sec. 1.6013-1(a)(2). There are two circumstances in which a return may be accepted as jointly filed even though it is signed only by one spouse: where a taxpayer acts as an authorized agent for his or her spouse, and when there is sufficient evidence that, despite the lack of a signature, the spouse consented to filing jointly.

Mr. Moss failed to show that in April 2009 his wife was unable to file a return, and, even if she were unable, that he qualified as her agent when he filed the joint return. Therefore he was not entitled to either married-filing-jointly status or the additional personal exemption.

The U.S. Tax Court
The U.S. Tax Court Matthew Bisanz

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Roger Russell

Roger Russell

Roger Russell is senior editor for tax with Accounting Today, and a tax attorney and a legal and accounting journalist.