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 Married Filing Jointly
You can still file married filing jointly 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 as married filing jointly with your deceased spouse. However, you can file as married filing jointly with your new spouse. You and your new spouse can also choose to each file as married filing separately. 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 as married filing jointly with your new spouse, you can claim an exemption only on that joint return.
If you qualify, you can use this filing status for the two tax years after the death of your spouse. However, you can’t use it for the year of death.
To qualify, you must meet these requirements:
You could have filed as married filing jointly with your spouse for the year he or she died. (It doesn't matter if you actually filed as married filing jointly.)
You didn't remarry before the close of the tax year.
You have a child, stepchild, or adopted child you claim as your dependent. This doesn’t apply to a foster child.
You paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home. This must be 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 married filing jointly.
Filing as Single
Unless you qualify for something else, you'll usually file as single after your spouse dies. However, you might not qualify as a qualifying widow(er) if your child is a foster child. If so, you'll be able to use head of household status.