How to File Income Tax for Someone Who Has Died

The IRS has certain guidelines for filing a return for a deceased spouse or family member.

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The death of a spouse or relative can present many issues and questions for families, especially when it comes time to file the tax return of the decedent. According to the Internal Revenue Service, if before dying, a taxpayer earned wages or received other income during the current tax year, the surviving spouse or personal representative of the decedent may be required to file a tax return on his behalf. How the deceased taxpayer’s return should be filed depends on individual filing requirement and whether the decedent has a surviving spouse or executor for his estate.

Decedent is Your Spouse

If a married taxpayer dies during the current tax year, the IRS considers the deceased taxpayer and the surviving spouse as still married for tax purposes. This means that the surviving spouse has the option of the option of filing “Married Filing Jointly” for the tax year in which the person died. During subsequent years, the surviving spouse can choose to file “Qualifying Widow/Widower with a Dependent Child” or “Head of Household” if she has a qualifying child. Both of these filing statuses will allow the surviving spouse to receive the highest standard deduction, which can lower her taxes. All three of these filing statuses may make the surviving spouse eligible for tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. However, if you remarried during the tax year, your deceased spouse’s return will need to be filed as “Married Filing Separately.”

Qualifying Widow/Widower

For a surviving spouse to file as “Qualifying Widow/Widower with a Dependent Child” certain requirements have to be met. The surviving spouse cannot have remarried during the current tax year or the two years following the spouse’s death. The surviving spouse must also have had a qualifying child live with him for the entire year and paid more than half the costs of keeping up a household. This filing status can only be used for two years following the spouse’s death. According to the IRS, this filing status allows you to use the highest standard deduction and to be taxed at the joint return status.

Deceased is a Parent or Other Relative

If the person who died is a parent or relative, the IRS and most states require a court-appointed estate executor to file the decedent’s tax return if he did not appoint an executor prior to his death. The income earned by a deceased taxpayer is considered the part of the deceased's estate, so laws regarding the distribution of estates will do apply. According to the IRS, “A personal representative of an estate is an executor (executrix), administrator (administratrix) or anyone who is in charge of the decedent's property. The personal representative is responsible for filing any final individual income tax return(s) and the estate tax return of the decedent when due.”

Filing a Deceased Taxpayer's Return

When filing a return for a deceased taxpayer, the spouse or personal representative is required to sign the return. The word “Deceased” should be typed or written after the decedent’s name in the taxpayer information section of the return. The date the person died should be written across the top of the return. If the person had expenses that needed to be filed, the IRS requires that the decedent’s tax return be completed according to the accounting method the deceased was using at the time of her death. IRS guidelines state that if you are filing a tax return for a deceased taxpayer and you are not the surviving spouse or court-appointed or certified personal representative, that you must file Form 1310 with the decedent’s return. You may also be required to file Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts. For more information about filing requirements for a deceased taxpayer, refer to IRS Publication 559, “Survivors, Executors, and Administrators.”