Can I represent myself in tax court?

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The United States Tax Court hears cases involving disagreements between the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, and taxpayers regarding the underpayment of income, gift, or estate taxes. In tax court, a corporation or business may be represented by an authorized company official; an estate or trust can be represented by the fiduciary; individuals can stand up for themselves; or any party can be represented by an attorney. If you represent yourself in tax court, you can begin a case by filing a petition in response to a ‘notice of deficiency’ from the IRS. It’s a good idea to obtain a copy of the Tax Court’s publication entitled ‘Rules of Practice and Procedure,’ which outlines the process of preparing and filing a petition. You can obtain this information by contacting the main office in Washington, D.C. These rules can guide you through the correct filing procedures and inform you of specific tax-court regulations. For example, federal law stipulates that you must file your petition within certain time periods, according to the ‘statute of limitations.’ If you miss the deadline for filing, it’s not within the tax court’s power to grant you an extension. It’s also important to obtain, fill out, and return the appropriate documents with the necessary attachments within the required time period. If you’d rather leave such important matters to a professional, you may choose to enlist the services of an attorney. Keep in mind, though, that only attorneys or other legal representatives who’ve been admitted to the bar of the court are recognized in federal tax court. Legal assistance is often required in certain cases, especially those involving fraud, a large underpayment to the IRS, poor bookkeeping, failure to file, inability to pay, or a mistake on the part of the IRS. The decision to use an attorney or represent yourself is ultimately yours. Think seriously about your choice, though, since the tax laws can be complex and their outcome quite severe.

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