Your filing status determines your income tax rate and standard deduction. If you're a recent widow(er), file your taxes under the filing status that saves you the most money.
Filing a Joint Return
You can file a joint return with your deceased spouse for the year of death -- unless you remarry during that year. It's your responsibility to file a final return for your spouse.
If you remarry in the year of your spouse's death, you can't file a joint return with your deceased spouse. However, you can file a joint return with your new spouse, or you and your new spouse can each file a separate return. If a return is required for your deceased spouse, use the married filing separately status.
If you're a surviving spouse with no gross income, you can be claimed as an exemption on both of these:
Your deceased spouse's separate return
Your new spouse's separate return
If you file a joint return with your new spouse, can claim an exemption only on that joint return.
If you meet certain requirements, you can use this filing status for the 2 tax years after the death of your spouse. However, you can’t use it for the year of death.
The requirements are:
You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse for the year he or she died. It doesn't matter if you actually filed a joint return.
You didn't remarry before the close of the tax year.
You have a child, stepchild, or adopted child whom you claim as your dependent. This doesn’t apply to a foster child.
You furnished more than half the cost of maintaining your home. This must have been the main home of your dependent child for the entire year, except for temporary absences.
If you file as a qualifying widow(er), you can't claim an exemption for your deceased spouse. However, you can use the married filing jointly tax table or tax rate schedule. The qualifying widow(er) standard deduction is the same as that for a married couple filing jointly.
Filing as Single
Unless you qualify for the qualifying widow(er) status or you remarry, you'll usually file as single after your spouse dies. However, if you don’t qualify as a qualifying widow(er) since your child is a foster child, you'll be able to use head of household status.