Many people incorrectly believe that the IRS can collect back taxes until the day you die. Some believe the IRS can collect taxes even after you are dead.
Fortunately, the law isn't that bad. The statute of limitations limits the time during which an action can be brought by the IRS for a tax audit and the time for IRS tax collection activities. Generally, there is a 3-year statute of limitations for the IRS auditing a tax return and a 10-year statute of limitations for the IRS collecting tax.
You should be aware that the states may be very different. California, for example, has NO statute of limitations on the collection of back taxes.
Rob Wood discusses his article in the San Francisco and Los Angeles Daily Journal