Marrying Someone Owing Taxes

Quick Summary

If you marry someone who owes taxes that does not make you liable for those taxes and any liens.

However, if you file a joint tax return or commingle assets that may create a basis for the IRS to take your money in the future.

If you live in a community property state like California, then the IRS can seize your assets after you marry to pay off your spouse's prior debts.

Law Review

What happens if you marry someone who owes the IRS? Can your property be seized, liens issued, and wages be garnished?

The starting point is no. You are not responsible for debts previously owed by someone else. If you jointly incur more debts after you marry that is a different story.

If you file a joint tax return any joint tax refund may be seized. You should file married but separately.

If you commingle your assets in a joint account the IRS is not going to be able to determine what money can be levied and seized and what money is yours. While it is possible to rectify this situation after a lien issues, it can be time consuming and costly. It is better to not create joint accounts or to put your money in an account with your spouse's name on it.

Special - to prevent your money from being levied in a bank account see this special report. It has strategies to use where you can have a usable bank account that is not levied on.

If you live in a community property state like California, it may be best not to get married.

If you live in California and marry someone owing taxes the IRS can take your money. This is because in community property states anything you earn is also considered earnings by your spouse. What you earn can thus be used to pay off your spouse's tax debt.

The IRS has a page discussing its collection efforts for community property states here.

Here are key quotes to summarize the situation in California:

"Levies Against a Nonliable Spouse to Reach a Liable Spouse's Share of Community Property - In all of the community property states, in some circumstances, it is possible to serve a levy on the nonliable spouse’s salary or wages to reach the liable spouse’s community property interest. "

"Some states do not distinguish between pre- and post-marital obligations and allow creditors to collect an obligation from 100% of community property. Therefore, in these states the Service may also collect taxes from 100% of community property for all premarital debts of a spouse. These states include California, Idaho and Louisiana. "

"Some states (California, Idaho and Louisiana) allow creditors to collect all debts of either spouse from 100% of community property."

In other words, in California if you marry someone who owes taxes you should assume you will become responsible for paying those taxes.

This responsibility should only be payable from income earned after you marry as it is community property income.

If you want to save your pre-marriage assets, whatever money you have before marrying should be kept in a separate account. Keep it in a safe deposit box, or literally under your mattress, and not in any account where it can be levied.

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