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Tax Liens

Galler Law, LLC > Tax Liens

In the United States, a federal tax lien may arise in connection with any kind of federal tax, including but not limited to income tax, gift tax, or estate tax.

Federal tax lien basics[edit]

Internal Revenue Code section 6321 provides:

Sec. 6321. LIEN FOR TAXES.
If any person liable to pay any tax neglects or refuses to pay the same after demand, the amount (including any interest, additional amount, addition to tax, or assessable penalty, together with any costs that may accrue in addition thereto) shall be a lien in favor of the United States upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belong to such person.[1]

Internal Revenue Code section 6322 provides:

Sec. 6322. PERIOD OF Tax Lien
Unless another date is specifically fixed by law, the lien imposed by section 6321 shall arise at the time the assessment is made and shall continue until the liability for the amount so assessed (or a judgment against the taxpayer arising out of such liability) is satisfied or becomes unenforceable by reason of lapse of time.[2]

The term “assessment” refers to the statutory assessment made by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under 26 U.S.C. § 6201 (that is, the formal recording of the tax in the official books and records at the office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury[3]). Generally, the “person liable to pay any tax” described in section 6321 must pay the tax within ten days of the written notice and demand.[4] If the taxpayer fails to pay the tax within the ten-day period, the tax lien arises automatically (i.e., by operation of law), and is effective retroactively to (i.e., arises at) the date of the assessment, even though the ten-day period necessarily expires after the assessment date.

Under the doctrine of Glass City Bank v. United States,[5] the tax lien applies not only to property and rights to property owned by the taxpayer at the time of the assessment, but also to after-acquired property (i.e., to any property owned by the taxpayer during the life of the lien).

The statute of limitations under which a federal tax lien may become “unenforceable by reason of lapse of time” is found at 26 U.S.C. § 6502. For taxes assessed on or after November 6, 1990, the lien generally becomes unenforceable ten years after the date of assessment. For taxes assessed on or before November 5, 1990, a prior version of section 6502 provides for a limitations period of six years after the date of assessment. Various exceptions may extend the time periods.