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Am I accountable if my tax preparer does something wrong?

There is an old adage – ignorance of the law is no defense. The same might be said about ignorance of what others do on your behalf.

There is no denying that the responsibility of meeting possible tax obligations can be an onerous thing. And it is also true that as one’s assets and businesses become more complex, tax burdens increase.

There are legal ways to manage tax risk and there is nothing wrong with enlisting the help of professionals to pursue such strategies. However, in the end, if your signature is on the paperwork, you are in some measure accountable. Claiming later that you didn’t understand what was being done on your behalf won’t pass muster if you find yourself in a dispute with state or federal tax collectors.

Some might point to the tax fraud case of soccer star Lionel Messi to contradict that there is no value in an “I didn’t understand” defense. That was a critical argument in his fight against charges of tax fraud. And some observers suggest it might have been a factor in a judge’s decision to reduce a possible 21-month prison sentence to a fine of several hundred thousand Euros. However, it’s useful to note that he was tried under Spanish law.

The legal climate in the U.S. is less temperate, especially if the IRS suspects that a taxpayer intentionally or voluntarily failed to comply with filing and payment requirements. And, if the taxpayer goes on to try to cover up those failures, the concealment could be seen as an attempt to avoid responsibility.

There are often legitimate business reasons for maintaining certain secrets. Secrecy in reporting taxes or during an audit, however, tends only to create problems.

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