A death is oftentimes a time of sadness. But that sadness can be compounded with confusion for surviving family members who are responsible for taking care of final arrangments. One of these arrangements that many are unfamiliar with is filing a final federal tax return for a deceased person. If you are responsible for the estate of someone who has died, here are some things you should know.
Filing a final tax return
Generally, the final individual income tax return of a deceased person is prepared and filed the same way as if the person were alive.
- The return must report all income up to the date of death and claim all eligible credits and deductions.
- If the deceased person did not file individual income tax returns for the years before their death, their surviving spouse or representative may have to file prior year returns.
- The IRS considers the surviving spouse married for the full year their spouse died if they don’t remarry during that year.
- The surviving spouse is eligible to use filing status “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately.”
- The same tax deadlines apply for final returns. For example, if the deceased person died in 2022, their final return was due by April 18, 2023, unless the surviving spouse or representative had an extension to file.
Who should sign the tax return
Obviously, the deceased cannot sign his or her own tax return. Here’s how to determine who should sign it.
- Any appointed representative must sign the return. If it’s a joint return, the surviving spouse must also sign it.
- If there isn’t an appointed representative, the surviving spouse filing a joint return should sign the return and write in the signature area, “filing as surviving spouse.”
- If there’s no appointed representative and no surviving spouse, the person in charge of the deceased person’s property must file and sign the return as “personal representative.”
Other documents to include with the final tax return
Court-appointed representatives should attach a copy of the court document showing their appointment. Representatives who aren’t court-appointed must include Form 1310, Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer to claim any refund. Surviving spouses and court-appointed representatives don’t need to complete this form.
If tax is due, the filer should submit payment with the return or visit the payments page of IRS.gov for other payment options. If they can’t pay the amount due immediately, they may qualify for a payment plan or installment agreement.
Qualifying widow or widower
Surviving spouses with dependent children may be able to file as a Qualifying Surviving Spouse for two years after their spouse’s death. This filing status allows them to use joint return tax rates and the highest standard deduction amount if they don’t itemize deductions.