Filing a return as a surviving spouse

The final income tax return is due at the same time the decedent's return would have been due had death not occurred. The final return should have the word "Deceased," the decedent's name, and the date of death written across the top of the return.

The income of the decedent that was includible on his or her return for the year up to the date of death and the income of the surviving spouse for the entire year must be included in the final joint return.

A final joint return with the decedent cannot be filed if the surviving spouse remarried before the end of the year of the decedent's death. The filing status of the decedent in this instance is married filing a separate return.

If you do not itemize deductions on the final return, the full amount of the appropriate standard deduction is allowed regardless of the date of death.

Do not attach a death certificate to the final return. Instead, keep it for your records and provide it if requested.

If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return and no personal representative has been appointed, you should sign the return and write in the signature area, "filing as surviving spouse."

If you are a surviving spouse and you receive a tax refund check in both your name and your deceased spouse's name, you can have the check reissued in your name alone. Return the joint-name check marked “VOID” to your local IRS office or the service center where you mailed your return, along with a written request for reissuance of the refund check. A new check will be issued in your name and mailed to you.

Is that ALL?? For many surviving spouses, that's it. Just file your 1040 as detailed above. What about 'estate taxes', 'death taxes' and all the other things people talk about? There are two returns possible in addition to the final 1040. The federal estate tax return (706) informs the IRS of large estates and regulates their taxation. The estate income tax return (1041) declares estate income generated after death. Many surviving spouses do not need to be concerned with either of these returns.

  • If your spouse's total possessions (this would often include half the value of the house and life insurance if the policy was in the deceased's name) were less than a million dollars (or 3 million or more depending on the year) than you don't have to worry about filing the federal estate tax return (706). Even if the estate is large enough to require this filing, you will often not have to pay taxes because of the various deductions allowed.
  • The estate income tax return (1041) is required if property owned by the deceased is continuing to generate income after death and the property is still technically 'owned' by the deceased (in the form of an estate in probate, for example). This return is similar to the 1040. Estate income might be interest on a bank account that did not automatically transfer to the surviving spouse. It could be rents coming in from property solely owned by the deceased. If the surviving spouse immediately acquired these accounts through joint ownership or a beneficiary deed, then the 'estate' is not considered to 'have income'. If, however, the 'estate' (not the surviving spouse) has income over $600, a 1041 income tax return must be filed in addition to the final 1040 of the deceased.

"And they all said 'I'm sorry for your loss,' as if you were someone who could ever be taken from me."

~Robert Brault