The Internal Revenue Service uses your income tax filing status to determine key information, such as the amount of your standard deduction. Your income tax status is determined primarily by your marital status as of the last day of the filing year, which can be confusing if you recently lost your spouse. The filing status you use is determined in part by how much time has passed since your spouse died.
Married Filing Jointly
The Internal Revenue Service considers you to be married for the entire year if you were married for any part of the year when your spouse died. If you do not remarry before the end of the tax year, you can file a joint return with your decease spouse using the married filing jointly return. For example, if your spouse died in March 2012, and you did not remarry before the end of the year, you can file your 2012 income tax return using the married filing jointly status.
Married Filing Separately
If your spouse died during the year and you remarried before the end of the tax year, you can file a joint tax return with your new spouse. You must file a final tax return for your deceased spouse if he would have been required to file a tax return for the tax year. The filing status for your deceased spouse's return would be married filing separately.
During the next two tax years following your spouse's death, you have the option of filing your federal income tax return using the qualifying widow(er) filing status, provided you have dependent children and have not remarried. You must pay more than half of the cost of maintaining a home for the tax year to be eligible to file as a qualifying widow(er). For example, if your spouse died in 2010, and you meet the other qualifications, you could file your taxes using the qualifying widow(er) status for the 2011 and 2012 tax years.
Head of Household
If your spouse died more than three tax years prior, you would file your taxes using either the single or head of household filing status. If you have not remarried and do not claim any dependents, you must file your federal income tax return using the single filing status. If you maintain a home and have a qualifying person living with you, you can file your taxes using the head of household filing status. For example, if your spouse died in 2008 and you remained single, your only filing status options as of the 2011 tax year would be single or head of household. You could not longer use the married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) filing status.
Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.