IRS Guidance on Electronic Signatures and Filings
The IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement on Friday, March 27, 2020, issued guidance to all IRS Service and Enforcement employees advising that – for the time being – electronic and digital signatures and emailed documents are to be accepted in lieu of original signatures and documents that would require submission via mail. The guidance has immediate effect and though is only temporary in nature does not have a firm end date.
The guidance memorandum – issued to assist IRS employees who work remotely – states that electronic images of signatures (scans or photos) and digital signatures may be accepted on documents received from taxpayers. With respect to the digital signatures, the IRS does not provide a list of what will and will not be accepted but does say that the program must use encryption techniques. In the case of both electronic and digital signatures, the format must be one of the following: tiff, jpg, jpeg, pdf, Microsoft Office Suite or Zip.
With respect to receipt of documents electronically, the guidance memorandum states that eFax and secured electronic transmission are the preferred methods of receiving documents from taxpayers. However, if a taxpayer is not able to use one of these methods, regular e-mail may be used provided that IRS personnel advise taxpayers that this method is not secure and that as little identifying information as possible should be used. The guidance also states that taxpayers must include a statement saying that the document includes the taxpayer’s signature and is intended to be transmitted to the IRS. When the IRS sends documents it should be done via eFax or secured Zip.
The guidance does not apply to every type of document that may be filed with the IRS. The guidance memorandum states that it applies to the following categories of documents: “extensions of statute of limitations on assessment or collection, waivers of statutory notices of deficiency and consents to assessment, agreements to specific tax matters or tax liabilities (closing agreements), and any other statement or form needing the signature of a taxpayer or representative traditionally collected by IRS personnel outside of standard filing procedures (for example, a case specific Power of Attorney).” Note that the guidance does not apply to “standard filing procedures” which would suggest that there is no change to the rules with respect to signatures and filing of tax returns.