Your tax information is private. The Internal Revenue Service can only share it with a third party if you authorize this. The authorization to share information and to allow someone to deal with the IRS on your behalf is made on Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative. Understand what signing this form can, and cannot, do.

What, Exactly, Does the Form Authorize?

Signing Form 2848 gives your agent – a CPA, attorney or other person designated as your agent – authority to take certain actions on your behalf:

  • Receive confidential tax information
  • Perform acts that you are able to do (e.g., sign an agreement with the IRS regarding taxes, on returns specified on Form 2848).
  • Sign a tax return in limited situations: if you are suffering from a disease or injury or you are continually outside the U.S. for at least 60 days before the date that a return is required to be filed. In any other circumstance (e.g., you’re on vacation in the U.S. before and after your return has been prepared and must be filed), you must submit a request in writing to the IRS for permission for someone (e.g., the preparer) to sign your return.

The form is not a blanket grant of authority to do everything tax-wise on your behalf. For instance, your agent cannot:

  • Endorse or negotiate a refund check, or direct that a refund be deposited electronically into the agent’s account.
  • Substitute another agent. However, you can specifically authorize this.

If you want someone merely to see your tax information but don’t want to authorize him/her to represent you before the IRS (e.g., at an audit), you can instead sign Form 8821, Tax Information Authorization.

Completing the Form

In order for Form 2848  to be effective, you have to specify the tax form and year for which you are granting authority. This includes:

  • Description of the matter (e.g., income taxes)
  • Tax form number (e.g., 1040). Saying “all forms” is not sufficient.
  • Year or period of applicability (e.g., 2014).Saying “all years” or “all periods” is not sufficient.

You also have to provide information about your agent/representative:

  • Name, address, telephone number and fax number
  • PTIN number, which is a preparer tax identification number that must be renewed by CPAs, attorneys, enrolled agent​s and paid preparers annually.
  • CAF number, which a Centralized Authorization File that the IRS uses to identity the representative. It is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS the first time a third-party authorization such as Form 2848 is submitted. If this is your agent’s first designation as a representative, there won’t be any CAF number to enter.

You have to sign the form. If you filed jointly and each spouse wants to grant authority, each must file a separate Form 2848 to designate a representative. You don’t have to use the same representative.

Using a Substitute Power of Attorney

If you have your own (non-IRS) power of attorney form that you’ve signed to give an agent various powers to act on your behalf, it can be used in lieu of Form 2848 under specific conditions. Your Power of Attorney (POA) must:

  • Authorize your agent to act in tax matters. If the POA is a blanket grant of authority, no specific grant of authority in tax matters is necessary, but the POA cannot restrict your agent’s actions in tax matters.
  • Contains all the information required in the government’s form.

Alternatively, your agent, acting under your own power of attorney form, can sign Form 2848 on your behalf.

Revoking a Power of Attorney

If you want to change agents (e.g., you hire a new CPA because you aren’t happy with the representation of the CPA to whom you originally gave authority), you must complete a new Form 2848. Filing a form for a new agent automatically revokes a former POA as long as the previous agent is in the CAF system (that’s why the number is important).

Filing Form 2848 does not revoke authority to see tax information that you gave by filing Form 8821.

If you are merely adding a new POA and not revoking a former one, you must indicate this by checking the box on line 6 on Form 2848. Also attach a copy of the former Form 2848 with the new form.

(For related reading, see Power Of Attorney: Do You Need One?)

The Bottom Line

If you want someone to interface with the IRS on your behalf, take the formal action needed to grant authority for this purpose. Complete Form 2848 and submit it to the IRS (the address is in the instructions to the form).

You may also be interested in reading The Purpose of IRS Form 1040 and The Purpose of IRS Form 5498.