When you do not pay your taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to file a “lien” on your property under Internal Revenue Code section 6321. The lien attaches “upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belonging to such person.” Practically, this means that the IRS is giving notice that you owe it money and its debt gets priority to most debts that occur after the lien notice is filed. Historically, the lien law has been interpreted strictly and “foot faults” can invalidate the lien. A recent case, however, provides that if the federal tax lien uses the incorrect name, the lien may still be established and enforceable.

The taxpayer and his wife purchased their home as joint tenants in 1975. The taxpayer became the sole owner of the property after his wife passed away. In July 2007, the taxpayer filed federal income tax returns for tax years 2000 to 2004. Based on those returns, the IRS assessed taxes, penalties and interest, which remained outstanding at the time of his death in July 2009. On August 9, 2010, the government recorded a notice of federal tax lien (the Tax Lien Notice) against the taxpayer with the appropriate recorder of deeds in an amount equal to the previously assessed amounts. The Tax Lien Notice omitted the second “l” in the taxpayer’s first name, and failed to include a legal description or permanent index number for the property. The Tax Lien Notice did identify the correct address.
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In Ritter v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2017-185 (September 19, 2017), the Tax Court held that a taxpayer’s receipt of a payment from a section 468B qualified settlement fund (QSF) was includable in gross income for the 2013 taxable year. The QSF was established pursuant to a settlement agreement between a federal banking regulator and the taxpayer’s former mortgage servicer (Bank) in which the Bank agreed to take certain actions to remedy deficiencies and unsafe or unsound practices in (i) the Bank’s residential mortgage servicing and (ii) the Bank’s initiation and handling of foreclosure proceedings. The Bank foreclosed on the taxpayer’s principal residence in 2010 while the taxpayer was in bankruptcy proceedings and protected by federal bankruptcy law.
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