In a recent decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court answered that question: The taxpayer. Not their lawyer. Not their agent. Not their best friend. No signature but the taxpayer’s will suffice.
In Appeal of Keith R. Mader 2000 Revocable Trust (No. 2020-0538), the taxpayers submitted an abatement application signed by their attorney, not by the taxpayers themselves. The Board of Tax and Land Appeals denied the application for an abatement because the taxpayers did not sign the abatement application. Rule 203.02, which was put in place by the BTLA, requires the taxpayer to sign the abatement application, and any failure to do this must be “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect” The New Hampshire Supreme Court had previously ruled this standard was met when “the taxpayer can show that, despite exercising ordinary business care and prudence, it was not reasonably possible to submit the application with the taxpayer’s signature and certification” and “he or she was not recklessly indifferent to the signature and certification requirement in preparing the application.” The BTLA held their failure to sign was not “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” The taxpayers appealed, claiming their failure to sign the application was “due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” Most of the taxpayers lived out of state, by the time they agreed to a representation agreement with their lawyer, there were only three days left to file the applications, and the taxpayers did not know they had to personally sign. The taxpayers also argued the BTLA exceeded its authority in adopting Rule 203.02 (which requires the taxpayer to sign the abatement application). They also argued their attorney’s signature on the application was sufficient.
None of these arguments prevailed. The Court affirmed the BTLA’s finding that the taxpayers did not exercise ordinary business care and prudence. The Court noted the taxpayers did not challenge the BTLA’s finding that they could have used faxed or emailed signatures. Nor did they challenge the BTLA’s finding that neither they nor their attorney made any effort to comply with the taxpayer signature requirement. As to the taxpayers’ claim they did not know they had to personally sign, the Court said “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” The Court rejected the argument that the BTLA did not have the power to require the taxpayer to sign the abatement application. RSA 76:16 provides “any person aggrieved” by a tax assessment may apply for an abatement. This has been held to mean the taxpayer. Therefore, the BTLA may require the taxpayer to sign the abatement application. The Court had previously ruled, in Appeal of Wilson, 161 N.H. 659 (2011), the signature of a non-attorney agent was insufficient to meet the taxpayer signature requirement. The Court found that, in this case, an attorney signed the abatement application was not a relevant distinction.
So, if you are applying for a tax abatement in New Hampshire, be sure to sign the abatement application yourself. An attorney, accountant, or other tax preparation agent cannot sign it for you. You might have to fax or email your signature to the person handling the abatement application for you if you are running close to a deadline, but you must sign the abatement application yourself. If you do not, your application will be denied for that reason alone. The BTLA will be reluctant to excuse a taxpayer’s failure to sign an abatement application, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court will be reluctant to overturn the BTLA on this issue.