Are Attorney Fees Tax-Deductible?

Most fees for personal legal work are not deductible; many for business are

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If you are getting divorced, suing someone, or starting a new business, then you’re probably going to have to hire a lawyer. Most fees for personal legal work are not tax-deductible, but many for businesses, including rental properties, are.

Let's delve into when legal fees are deductible for individuals and for small businesses.

Key Takeaways

  • With a few exceptions, individual taxpayers may not deduct legal expenses on their tax returns.
  • Exceptions include legal fees in connection with an employment discrimination lawsuit and any amounts earned in connection with whistleblower suits.
  • Businesses may deduct legal and professional fees if those fees were incurred in the course of conducting business.

Most Personal Legal Fees Are Not Deductible

With a few exceptions, most legal expenses related to personal issues are not deducted. Many were were prior to 2018, but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 changed tax law so that you may not deduct these types of fees. Specifically, you cannot deduct legal fees for:

  • Divorce
  • Child custody cases
  • Buying real estate for personal use, including title expenses
  • Breach of a marriage proposal
  • Civil or criminal charges related to personal relationships
  • Personal injury
  • Estate planning
  • Property claims or settlements
  • Tax issues or advice
  • Defending yourself against civil or criminal charges stemming from your participation in a political campaign

Note

The IRS does have special tax treatment for adoption expenses. You can claim the Adoption Tax Credit for qualified adoption expenses, including attorney and court fees, adoption fees, and travel expenses. You can also exclude income provided by your employer for adoption assistance.

Personal Legal Fees You Can Deduct

Taxpayers do still have a handful of personal legal fee deductions under current tax law. They include:

  • Legal fees in employment discrimination cases (where the you as the taxpayer are the plaintiff): The deduction is limited to the total amount of the your gross income.
  • Whistleblower rewards: In certain cases where you report someone for breaking a federal regulation, such as tax fraud or evasion, then you will be paid a percentage of the amount that was evaded if the person is caught. This deduction is limited to the amount that you are paid. 

Many Business Legal Fees Are Deductible

The other side of the coin for taxpayers who are running or starting a business is that many business-related legal fees are deductible on Schedule C (Schedule E for rental or royalties income and Schedule F for farm income). If you are a businessperson, the legal fees you can deduct must be related to the profit or loss from a business, include those pertaining to:

  • Collecting income from a customer (along with relevant court costs)
  • Your business declaring bankruptcy
  • Handling and caring for income-producing equipment
  • Defending your business or trade (but only as those fees that directly relate to the business—not to an individual, such as the owner or an employee)
  • Drafting or negotiating contracts between you and your customers
  • Defending any patent, trademark, or copyright claims

Note

Tax advice for your business is usually tax-deductible, unlike fees for personal tax guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are legal fees tax-deductible for a rental property?

You can deduct many legal fees related to rental properties if they're related to the production of taxable income, or to the management, conservation, or maintenance of an income-generating property.

You cannot claim a deduction for legal fees related to getting, defending, or clearing a property, though you may be able to recover those costs through depreciation, depletion, or cost recovery.

Can you deduct legal fees related to a child custody case?

No, you can't deduct child custody lawyer fees or any legal fees related to a divorce.

How do I claim deductions for qualified legal expenses?

If you have expenses that are deemed deductible, you will need to itemize them on your tax return. That means you cannot take the standard deduction. Legal expenses related to your business should be itemized on Schedule C, E, or F (depending on the type of business).
Fees related to whistleblower claims or unlawful discrimination claims should be included on Form 1040.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions," See 'Legal Expenses'.

  2. IRS. "Topic No. 607 Adoption Credit and Adoption Assistance Programs."

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 529, Miscellaneous Deductions."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 535, Business Expenses," See 'Legal and professional fees'.

  5. Royal Legal Solutions. "Are Legal Expenses Tax-Deductible for Real Estate Investors?"

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