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December, 2004 Tax Tip

Obtaining a Copy of Prior Year Tax Return


You may need to obtain a copy of a prior year tax return for a variety of reasons:  Your copy may be lost due to a casualty  (e.g., fire or storm), a relocation, a marital dissolution, or just carelessness in maintaining a copy.  Whatever the reason, you can obtain the copy(ies) needed from the IRS by filing Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return.  Currently there is a fee of $39 per return.  Usually, returns are available for the current and past six years. The IRS says that you can expect to receive the copy within 60 days of receipt of the request.


Alternatively, you can obtain a transcript of an old return by filing Form 4506-T, Request for Transcript of Tax Return.  The transcript shows certain basic information, including filing status, type of return filed, adjusted gross income, taxable income and tax liability, as well as any adjustments made by the IRS. There is no charge for obtaining a transcript.  Usually, transcripts are available for the current and past three years. The IRS says that taxpayers will receive transcripts within 10 days of receipt of the request.   Therefore, if you are in need of the information quickly and the potential user of the information (lender, attorney, etc.) will accept the data in transcript form, this may be the way to go.  Forms 4506 and 4506-T can be downloaded from the IRS website,


At present, there is no mechanism for a taxpayer to view old tax information electronically. However, the IRS has been directed by Congress to develop no later than December 31, 2006, an electronic review process for taxpayers who e-file their returns.   This is yet another reason to consider e-filing in the future.


Heirs, next of kin, or beneficiaries of decedents who die intestate (without a will) may wish to use old income tax returns to track down assets.  The Tax Code permits them to make a written request to see the decedent's tax return if such person(s) has a material interest which could be affected by the information contained in the return.


Recently, the IRS issued a ruling that heirs of a person who dies intestate have a material interest in viewing the decedent's old tax returns.  The case involved two brothers and two sisters of a decedent who died intestate, each of whom was entitled to a one-fourth interest of the estate under state law. The siblings wanted to inspect the decedent's income tax returns for the prior year in order to identify and locate assets owned by the decedent at the time of his death.


Material interest means an important interest that is financial in nature. The income tax return may disclose assets or information materially affecting the distribution to each sibling, so that interest is material in this case.  The IRS now allows any heir at law or next of kin who is a distributee of the decedent to view the income tax return for the year prior to death, as such person is presumed to have a material interest.


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