How A Spouse's Death Can Affect Your Tax Filing Status

Law Blog

If you were married, but your spouse died during the current tax year, you may have questions about how to file your tax return – particularly if you and your spouse usually filed as "married filing jointly." When filing a final joint tax return with your deceased spouse, you must report income your spouse earned from the beginning of the tax year until his or her date of death. After filing that final return, the filing status you choose in subsequent years changes how much money you will pay in taxes.

Filing Jointly With Your Deceased Spouse

No matter in what month during the tax year your spouse died, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) still considers you married for filing a joint return. But using the filing status "married filing separately" for your spouse's final return may be necessary if you remarry before the end of the tax year and choose to file a joint tax return with your new spouse.

If you are filing a joint or separate tax return for a deceased spouse, as a surviving spouse, you can sign the return to claim any refund due. Even if a joint return doesn't include earned income of your own, if your deceased spouse had tax withheld, you can claim the refund.

How to Sign the Return

If you file a joint return, you will sign your name to the return as usual. In addition, you will write that you are "filing as a surviving spouse" in the signature area of the tax form where your spouse would sign. Whether or not you and your spouse normally filed a joint return or separate returns, when you file his or her final return, along with writing the word "deceased" at the top of the return, write your spouse's name and date of death.

Filing as Qualifying Widow(er) With Dependent Child

After filing a final joint return, if you have any dependent children, you can file as "qualifying widow(er) with dependent child" for two years following the death of your spouse. But to do so, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must not remarry during that time

  • You must have filed a joint tax return for you and your spouse for the year your spouse died

  • You must have at least one natural child, adopted child, or stepchild whom you can claim as a dependent

  • Your dependent child or children must live with you in your home for the entire year

  • You must pay more than half the cost to maintain the home where you live

Filing as qualifying widow(er) with dependent child for the two years following your spouse's death allows you to use the tax rate applicable to a joint return and gives you the highest standard deduction rate if you don't itemize deductions.

Filing as Single or Head of Household

If you do not have a dependent child, don't meet the qualifying widow(er) with dependent child requirements, or do not remarry, you must use the "single" filing status after filing a final joint return claiming your deceased spouse. The year in which your spouse died is the last tax year you can file a joint return with your deceased spouse.

If you have a dependent child and can no longer use the qualifying widow(er) with dependent child filing status after two years, you may qualify to file as "head of household." To claim head of household status you:

  • Must be unmarried on the last day of the tax year for which you are filing a return

  • Share your home for at least six months with a qualifying person, such as a dependent child, for whom you provide support and care for more than half the year

  • Have contributed more than half the cost of keeping up the home where you reside

If you qualify to file as head of household, you can benefit by getting a lower tax rate and claiming a higher standard deduction than if you file as a single taxpayer. For more help and information, contact a tax preparation professional.


18 August 2016

Knowing Your Legal Rights Can Help You Greatly in Life

Like many people, I once found learning about law very intimidating. My brother went to law school and I remember glancing through a few of his books and wondering if I was actually reading English due to all of the legal jargon in them! However, when I ended up in a sticky legal situation due to accidentally breaking a small law I didn't know existed, I realized that I needed to learn more about the law, so I could make sure to follow it precisely in the future. My brother helped to break down some complicated legal concepts to me, and I have since been studying up online. I want to post what I have learned and continue to learn about law in the future on my new blog, so my knowledge cannot only help myself, but also help others!