Editor: Susan Minasian Grais, CPA, J.D., LL.M.
The IRS announced on Aug. 28, 2020, that it will temporarily accept electronic or digital signatures (collectively, e-signatures) for certain tax forms that must be filed or maintained in paper form. The IRS updated this announcement on Sept. 10, 2020, to add six more forms (for a total of 16). This relief makes it easier for taxpayers to sign certain paper returns and other paper IRS forms in an environment where taxpayers and preparers alike are working remotely. As of this writing, the temporary deviation from the handwritten signature requirement was effective through Dec. 31, 2020, although it was possible the IRS would extend the relief into 2021.
The paper forms that temporarily can be e-signed are:
- Form 706, U.S. Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return;
- Form 706-NA, U.S. Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return: Estate of Nonresident Not a Citizen of the United States;
- Form 709, U.S. Gift (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return;
- Form 1066, U.S. Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit (REMIC) Income Tax Return;
- Form 1120-C, U.S. Income Tax Return for Cooperative Associations;
- Form 1120-L, U.S. Life Insurance Company Income Tax Return;
- Form 1120-ND, Return for Nuclear Decommissioning Funds and Certain Related Persons;
- Form 1120-PC, U.S. Property and Casualty Insurance Company Income Tax Return;
- Form 1120-REIT, U.S. Income Tax Return for Real Estate Investment Trusts;
- Form 1120-RIC, U.S. Income Tax Return for Regulated Investment Companies;
- Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method;
- Form 3520, Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts;
- Form 3520-A, Annual Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner;
- Form 8802, Application for U.S. Residency Certification;
- Form 8832, Entity Classification Election; and
- Form 8453 series, Form 8878 series, and Form 8879 series regarding IRS e-file signature authorization forms.
Taxpayers may choose the specific technology used to create the e-signatures.
In limiting the list of paper forms that temporarily do not require a handwritten signature to the ones specified above, the IRS noted that acceptance of e-signatures presents elements of risk. The Service explained that the identified forms were chosen because they "cannot be filed electronically and the IRS can accept the associated risks with these forms at this time in a limited duration under these circumstances."
The IRS has long required ink (so-called wet) taxpayer signatures on paper returns. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the IRS has received many requests to relax this requirement but had cited concerns regarding fraud and other risks in declining to provide relief. While the IRS did provide limited e-signature relief earlier in 2020, that guidance was extremely limited in scope and generally did not apply to tax returns.
Before affixing e-signatures, taxpayers should exercise the same diligence in reviewing returns as they do when using wet signatures.
It is also important to note what the e-signature exception does not cover, notably paper-filed Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1120, U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return, and other IRS forms such as Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. For these forms, taxpayers should continue to use wet signatures until instructed otherwise by the IRS.
Susan Minasian Grais, CPA, J.D., LL.M., is a managing director at Ernst & Young LLP in Washington, D.C..
For additional information about these items, contact Ms. Grais at 202-327-8788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unless otherwise noted, contributors are members of or associated with Ernst & Young LLP.