Dear Mrs. Riches:
My husband has always taken on the job of preparing our taxes and plans to do so again this year. But I have always been somewhat uncomfortable about his less-than-conservative approach to our deductions and am not really convinced he is always accurate. I don't usually go over the return, so this isn't based on finding an actual discrepancy; it's more like a feeling, based on his comments. I'm getting increasingly anxious about this because I have another family member in hot water with the IRS and I have seen how miserably that has played out. I'd like to turn our financial life over to a neutral party, but how do you tell your spouse "I don't trust you" without it becoming a major blowup?
-- Skittish in Sacramento
Get out your flak jacket because there's no kind or gentle way to tell your spouse you think he's a cheat. All the "sort of," "not really," and "this is just a feeling" qualifiers don't take away the essential truth: You don't trust your husband. Given that (and how crummy it is to be on the wrong side of the IRS), you have to take some action. It's unfair to harbor such serious suspicions about your spouse without taking steps to confirm or refute them.
Start by looking at your returns -- something you should always do anyway. The IRS expects both partners in a couple to sign a joint return and won't think much of the excuse, "I didn't know what was on it. Honest!"
Regardless of whether you find anything, talk with your husband about hiring a CPA to do your taxes this year. Short of chronicling your doubts about his honesty, you can certainly make a case for hiring an expert simply because of, well, expertise. The two of you can have a consultation with the CPA, discuss together what kinds of deductions you're eligible for, and get a professionally prepared tax return that will serve as a comparison for other years.
And suppose you find nothing out of order on your tax returns? You won't have to worry about the long arm of the IRS, but you'll still have to worry about the status of your relationship. With this level of mistrust (and your reticence to confront it until now), the two of you are on very shaky ground. Consider investing in the health of your marriage, whether it's by consulting a marriage and family therapist, going to a relationship workshop, or taking time every day to improve communication.
Want to seek out tax expertise on your own? Check out The Motley Fool's Tax Center for fresh information on your relationship with the IRS.