You can use a subpoena duces tecum - a subpoena that requires someone to produce something - to request tax records for a court case. After completing the subpoena, ask your attorney or the court clerk to sign and serve it on the witness.
Obtain a Subpoena Form
Request a subpoena form from the court that's trying your case, or visit the document section of the court's website -- some make these forms available online. For example, the U.S. District Court publishes a blank subpoena form that you can download and print out.
Complete the Subpoena
Fill out the subpoena. You must include certain information, such as:
- The name of the plaintiff
- The name of the defendant
- The specific court that's trying your case
In the Production section, list the specific tax returns you want the person to provide. Note which years you need, and state whether you're looking for personal tax returns or business tax returns. If you need business returns, include the legal name of the business.
If you're requesting tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service rather than an accountant or other business, you must submit an additional written document with the subpoena. The statement must include:
- A brief description of the case and the parties involved
- A summary of the records you need from the IRS
- An explanation of how the records are relevant to your case
- A summary of the statutory authority that allows you to request the return, such as that you're the plaintiff or defendant in the case
- Whether the tax returns are available from another source
- The deadline by which you need the returns
Also tell the IRS if you need an agent to testify or require a written declaration from an IRS representative.
Get the Subpoena Issued
A subpoena must be signed and officially issued before it's valid and requires the recipient to act. Rules regarding who can issue a subpoena vary by state, who you're serving and the court that's trying your case. FindLaw indicates that if you're not a lawyer and you're representing yourself, you can sometimes sign the subpoena. If you don't have an attorney, ask the court clerk about the rules in your jurisdiction.
Serve the Subpoena
Rules for serving a subpoena vary by state as well. You may be able to send it to the recipient by certified mail, return receipt requested, or you may have to arrange to have it hand delivered by an adult who's not involved in the lawsuit or hire a private process server. The court clerk can explain the rules in your state.
Nolo warns that just because you subpoena and receive tax returns, this doesn't mean the court will admit the records as evidence. You must convince the judge that the tax returns are relevant to your case.
As an alternative to issuing a subpoena for tax returns, a judge can order an individual to sign IRS Form 4506-T, which allows you to request a copy of his tax return from the IRS.
Based in San Diego, Calif., Madison Garcia is a writer specializing in business topics. Garcia received her Master of Science in accountancy from San Diego State University.