If, When, How to File for a Deceased Taxpayer

Teresa L. Clark

Handling a loved one’s estate is something millions face every year. Here is a short Q&A about some tax aspects to be mindful of during this difficult time.

Under what circumstances does a tax return need to be filed for a deceased taxpayer? When is the tax return due?

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, file a return to get a tax refund of any taxes that were withheld. The return is due by the filing deadline for the tax year in which the taxpayer died; tax returns for people who died in 2011 are due on or before April 17, 2012.

Whose responsibility is it to file?

The person in charge of the estate is responsible for making sure the tax return is filed. This could be the executor, spouse or anyone else 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.

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

Yes, it can. Whether e-filed or filed on paper, be sure to write “deceased” after the taxpayer’s name. If paper filed, also include the taxpayer’s date of death across the top of the return.

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

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

Is there anything special that has to be done if a tax refund is due?

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

If money is owed, who is responsible for paying?

If taxes are due, they should be paid by the estate, which has control of the deceased taxpayer’s money. Taxes should be paid before distributing funds to the beneficiaries. If there is not enough money in the estate to cover the tax liability, the debt generally does not get transferred to the person in charge of the decedent’s property. However, if the money would have been available for the tax debt had it not been distributed to beneficiaries, then the debt will be transferred to the personal representative of the estate.

Are all surviving spouses eligible to file as a qualified widow/widower?

No, they aren’t. Generally, to file as a qualifying widow/widower, the surviving spouse must also have been entitled to file a joint return with the deceased taxpayer, have a dependent child and not have remarried within in the past two years.

What if a child died? Can the child be claimed as a dependent?

If a child was living at any time during the year, the taxpayer 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 lived with the taxpayer at all times (with exceptions for temporary absences) prior to 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.