January 21, 2011 3:38 pm

Special Tax Rules for the Newly Widowed

If your spouse has died during the year, leaving you single, don’t assume that the tax law views you as single, too. You may still be treated as married or have a special tax status for years to come, regardless of your age.

In the year of death

For the year in which a spouse dies, the surviving spouse can opt to file a joint return if he/she did not remarry and the executor for the deceased spouse allows it or no executor has yet been appointed. In most cases, the surviving spouse is the executor, so the decision on whether to file a joint return usually rests with the widow.

However, the surviving spouse cannot file a joint return if either spouse was a nonresident alien at any time during the year.

Even if a joint return has already been filed, an executor may revoke the jointly filed return-even if it was proper to file it at the time.

In future years

If the surviving spouse does not remarry and has a dependent child, there’s a special tax-filing status following the year of death: Qualifying widow(er) (also referred to as a surviving spouse). This status entitles the surviving spouse to:

  • Use the tax rates applicable to joint returns.
  • Claim the same standard deduction as joint filers if he/she does not itemize deductions.
  • Claim the same exemption amount as joint filers for the alternative minimum tax.

Qualifying widow(er) status can apply for up to two years following the year of death. For example, if a husband dies in 2007, leaving a wife with a 12-year-old child, the wife can file as a qualifying widow in 2008 and 2009. Of course, if the widow marries in 2009 or no longer has a dependent child, then qualifying widow(er) status no longer applies.

After two years following the year of the spouse’s death, even if the widow has not remarried and still has a dependent child, this special status can no longer be claimed. The remaining status options for the widow who has not remarried:

  • Head of household if she continues to have a dependent child
  • Single (unmarried)
Tags: Filing

There have been about 4,428 changes to the Tax Code over the past 10 years, which is an average of more than one a day. There have been an estimated 579 changes in 2010.

Source: National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report 2010

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