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Filing taxes for a deceased taxpayer: FAQs

6 min read

6 min read

Tax filing is rarely anyone’s idea of an enjoyable task, and it can become even more distressing when you’re dealing with the tax preparation and affairs of a loved one who has recently passed away. Handing a loved one’s estate can seem daunting but take heart. We’ll help guide you through the process of filing taxes for a deceased taxpayer. Here is a brief Q&A about some tax aspects to be mindful of when filing taxes for the deceased, including the details of IRS Form 1310.

When must a tax return be filed for a deceased taxpayer?

tax filing for deceased taxpayer using Form 1310

The same filing requirements apply to a deceased taxpayer that apply to any other individual taxpayer. Even if the deceased isn’t subject to filing requirements, you may want to file an IRS income tax return to get a tax refund of any taxes withheld. The return is due by the tax deadline for the tax year in which the taxpayer died, typically April 15 of the next year.

Depending on when the taxpayer passed away, more than one tax return may be required. For example, if a taxpayer passed away in February of 2023, a return for the taxpayer would have to be filed by April 15, 2023, for tax year 2022 and by April 15, 2024, for the 2023 tax year (covering January and February of 2023).

Whose responsibility is it to file?

The person in charge of the deceased individual’s estate (also called the “personal representative”) is responsible for tax preparation and filing the tax return. This could be an executor, administrator, surviving spouse, or anyone else who is an appointed representative of the deceased person’s will or legally in charge of the decedent’s property. If the taxpayer was married at the time of death, the surviving spouse may file the return for the year using the Married Filing Joint status.

(Related: What are my filing status options?)

Can a tax return for a deceased taxpayer be e-filed?

Yes, it can. If paper-filed, write “Deceased,” the taxpayer’s name, and the taxpayer’s date of death across the top of the final return. If e-filed, follow the directions provided by the tax software and be sure to indicate the taxpayer is deceased and the date of death.

If the deceased taxpayer’s final return is not a Joint return, the name of the deceased taxpayer should be in the name field. The name and address of the personal representative should be in the address field.

Does a death certificate have to be attached to the tax return?

No, a copy of the taxpayer’s death certificate doesn’t have to be sent with the tax return.

What else should you do if a tax refund is due?

If a tax refund is due, the person claiming the refund must fill out IRS Form 1310: Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due to Deceased Taxpayer unless the person is a surviving spouse filing a joint return or a court-appointed personal representative.

If money is owed, who is responsible for paying?

Taxes should be paid by the estate (the entity in control of the deceased taxpayer’s money). What’s more, any taxes should be paid before distributing funds to the beneficiaries.

If the money would have been available for the tax debt had it not been distributed to beneficiaries or to pay other debts, the personal representative might be responsible for the tax bill. If you have questions, speak with your tax professional or attorney.

What filing status am I allowed to use after the death of my spouse?

As long as you don’t remarry, you can file as Married Filing Jointly with your deceased spouse in the year of your spouse’s death.  You also can file married filing separately. If there is an executor, you will need to discuss these options with the executor as the executor must agree to a joint return. Note: After the year of your spouse’s death, you won’t be able to file a joint return unless you remarry and elect to file jointly with your new spouse. In some circumstances you may be able to file as head of household or as a qualifying surviving spouse, as explained below.

Are all surviving spouses eligible to use the Qualifying Surviving Spouse filing status?

Not all surviving spouses are  eligible to file as a Qualifying Surviving Spouse (previously called Qualifying Widow/Widower). Generally, to file as a qualifying surviving spouse, the surviving spouse must also have:

  • had the ability to file a joint return with the deceased taxpayer in the year of the deceased taxpayer’s death (even if no joint return was filed),
  • a dependent son or daughter who lived the surviving spouse all year,
  • paid more than half the cost of keeping up of the surviving spouse’s home, and
  • not remarried within the past two tax years.

For example, if surviving spouse filed a Joint return in the year with the taxpayer passed away, but all the surviving spouse’s children have reached their majority and do not live with the surviving spouse, then the surviving spouse could not use the qualifying surviving spouse filing status.

What should I do if my spouse died before filing and/or signing a joint tax return?

In the event of the death of a spouse, prior to filing and/or signing a joint tax return, the executor or administrator should sign the return on behalf of the spouse.

If an executor or administrator hasn’t been appointed or there is no administration required, you, as the surviving spouse, can sign for your spouse. Enter “Filing as surviving spouse” in the area where you sign the return.

What if the executor is appointed after a joint return is filed?

If the executor or administrator is appointed and it is someone other than you, the surviving spouse, the executor has one year to revoke a joint return. Should the executor choose to revoke the joint return, the joint return you filed is converted to a Married Filing Separately return.

If a child died, can they be claimed as a dependent?

If a child was living at any time during the year, a qualifying guardian or parent can claim the dependent exemption if the dependency tests are met. For this purpose, the child is treated as having lived with the taxpayer all year if the child always lived with the taxpayer (except for temporary absences) before the child’s death. If the child is the taxpayer’s qualifying child for the dependency exemption, the taxpayer also is eligible to claim the child for the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

More help with how to file taxes for a deceased person

Filing taxes for a deceased taxpayer may involve extra steps and care, but nonetheless, it’s a manageable process. Take the tax and estate planning one step at a time, gather the necessary documents, and consider seeking professional guidance if needed.

If you have more questions about filing taxes for a deceased loved one and IRS Form 1310, H&R Block is here to guide you. Whether you make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable tax pros or choose one of our online tax filing products, you can count on H&R Block to help.

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