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How to File a Tax Return For a Deceased Taxpayer

Dealing with the death of a loved one is never easy. From notifying friends and family, and planning a funeral, to dealing with financials, there are a lot of details to manage – not to mention the overwhelming grief. In most cases, you’ll need to add tax preparation to your to-do list if you are a surviving spouse or designated representative of the estate. If you’re unsure how to file a tax return for a deceased taxpayer, keep reading to learn who must sign the return and what documentation is required.

Who Should Sign The Tax Return

For paper tax returns, you should write the person’s name, date of death, and the word “deceased” at top of the return. Depending on whether you are a surviving spouse or an appointed representative, here’s who should sign the return:

  • Appointed Representative: any appointed representative must sign the return. If there is a surviving spouse and it’s a joint return, they must sign it, as well.
  • Surviving Spouse: if there isn’t an appointed representative for the deceased taxpayer and you’re the surviving spouse filing a joint return, sign the return and write “filing as surviving spouse” in the signature area.
  • No Surviving Spouse or Representative: In cases where there isn’t an appointed representative or surviving spouse, the person in charge of the deceased taxpayer’s property must file and sign the return as a “personal representative.”

If you are using tax software to file for a deceased taxpayer, simply follow the instructions provided for correct notation and signature requirements.

Documents to Include When Filing

When filing a tax return for a deceased taxpayer, you’ll need to include the typical documentation required (SSN, W-2, 1099s, etc.), as well as these additional items:

Do not include a copy of the death certificate or other proof of death. It’s important to note that you do not receive an automatic filing extension when a taxpayer dies. The return is due by the regular April filing deadline unless the designated representative or surviving spouse requests a filing extension. Be sure to include payment with the return if tax is due. If you cannot pay the taxes by the due date, apply for a payment plan or see if any additional tax relief is available.

Can I File as a Qualifying Widow(er)?

If you haven’t remarried during the year that your spouse passed away, you may be eligible for several different filing statuses. As the surviving spouse, you can use married filing jointly or married filing separately because the IRS considers you married for the entire year that your spouse died.

You may also file as a qualifying widow(er) if you have dependent children. This filing status allows you to use joint return tax rates and the highest standard deduction if you don’t itemize your taxes. You can file as a qualifying widow(er) for up to two years after your spouse’s death.

Additional Help

If you need additional help, the IRS provides a free tool that will help you determine how to file a tax return for a deceased taxpayer. It takes approximately seven minutes to complete online. You can also reach out to a tax professional or an estate attorney to ensure all the necessary steps are taken and the tax return is filed correctly.