Each year, the Internal Revenue Service improves the electronic filing system, making it possible for nearly everyone to file taxes electronically. In 2012, almost 100 million taxpayers e-filed and the IRS expects this number to increase about 17 percent by 2018. If your spouse died in the past year and you normally file taxes jointly, you can still file a joint return electronically as long as your tax return meets the IRS e-file guidelines.
Returns You Cannot File Electronically
The IRS does accept most tax returns electronically, but some forms and situations are exempt. As of 2013, the IRS does not accept Forms 1040NR, Form 990T or Form 1041QFT electronically. If your return includes one of these forms, you will have to file through the mail. If your federal tax return does not have taxable income, or if Box 1 on your W-2 is blank, you cannot file electronically. The IRS also does not accept e-filing of Form 1040X, which is an amended tax return.
Filing Your Taxes
If you plan to file your tax return electronically, you must either file using income tax preparation software or take your tax records to a professional. Both the tax software and the tax professional will know how to handle filing your income tax return.
Although you can file jointly in the year of your spouse's death, unless you remarry, you will typically have to file using the single status in subsequent years. There is a special rule, however, for widows who have dependent children. For two years following the year of your spouse's death, you can claim the qualifying widow filing status, which allows you to claim a standard deduction equal to the married filing jointly status. In addition, when you file as a qualifying widow, your income is taxed at the married filing jointly rate.
If you attempt to file your joint tax return electronically, the IRS will match your deceased spouse's name and Social Security number with the Social Security Administration. Because your spouse is deceased, the date of death must match. Before filing the return, notify the SSA of your spouse's death. If the IRS rejects your return, you might receive a rejection code similar to "Primary date of death must match e-File database." If this occurs, double-check the information on the return, including your spouse's Social Security number and date of death and resubmit. If you receive the rejection again, contact the IRS and the SSA to verify that the information on your spouse's record and death certificate match.
Filing by Mail
If you are unable to file electronically and must file a paper return through the mail, you will have to make a few changes to the return. After your spouse's last name on the top of the return, write the word "Deceased." Write the date of your spouse's death on the very top of the form. In the signature area at the end of the form, write "Filing as surviving spouse" in your spouse's field. Mail your return to the address listed on the form's instructions.
- Internal Revenue Service: Return Preparation and Filing Options
- Internal Revenue Service: Projections of Federal Tax Return Filings -- Years 2011-2018
- Internal Revenue Service: Frequently Asked Questions -- E-file Requirements
- Internal Revenue Service: Tax Topic 356 -- Decedents
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 17 -- Qualifying Widower
- TurboTax: Can a Tax Return for a Deceased Taxpayer Be E-Filed?
- Intuit Community: Reject Code IND-035
Angela M. Wheeland specializes in topics related to taxation, technology, gaming and criminal law. She has contributed to several websites and serves as the lead content editor for a construction-related website. Wheeland holds an Associate of Arts in accounting and criminal justice. She has owned and operated her own income tax-preparation business since 2006.