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Fourth of July special: taxation and representation

The Fourth of July is a fitting occasion to put tax law in a larger picture.

After all, protests over taxation without representation played a key role in the movement toward American independence from Britain. The image of tax protesters dumping chests of tea into Boston Harbor in 1773 continues to shine out vividly in a country still trying to bring more fairness to its tax system.

Bringing fairness to the tax system today is difficult for several reasons. One is that the tax code has grown to such mammoth size. Another is that the IRS, which is tasked with administering the sprawling code, has seen its budget and employee head count reduced in recent years, and these reductions have made the delivery of acceptable client service even more difficult.

This was the context in which, in June of last year, the IRS issued a summary of taxpayers' rights that it called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

In a format designed to resemble the famed Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights set forth 10 principles expressing what taxpayers have the legitimate right to expect from the IRS. These principles were not new laws, but rather a way to to pull together existing laws and make them more visible by grouping them into common categories.

Let's take one example: the right to retain representation.

The right to retain representation means that you can choose someone to deal with the IRS for you. This person could be a tax attorney. It could also be a CPA or an "enrolled agent." As we discussed in our January 21 post, there are several different types of professionals that have full rights to represent clients before the IRS.

But the right to retain representation does not only extend to these professionals. It is also possible to use a power of attorney to designate a representative to interact with the IRS for you.

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