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How to file a final tax return for a decedent

Posted on July 19, 2022

According to Mike Poynter, senior CPA at Teipen CPA Group, when someone dies, their surviving spouse or representative files the deceased person’s final tax return, noting that the person has died.

Surprisingly, the IRS doesn’t need a copy of the death certificate or other proof of death. Usually, the representative filing the final tax return is named in the person’s will or appointed by a court.

What to know about filing a final return:

  • The IRS considers someone married for the entire year in which the spouse died, assuming they don’t remarry during that year.
  • The surviving spouse may choose filing status married, filing jointly, or married filing separately.
  • The final return is still due by the regular April tax date unless the surviving spouse or representative has an extension.
  • Surviving spouses with dependent children may be able to file as a Qualifying Widow(er) for two years after their spouse’s death. This filing status allows them to use joint return tax rates and the highest standard deduction amount if they don’t itemize deductions.

Who should sign the return?
When e-filing, the surviving spouse or representative should follow the directions provided by the software for the correct signature and notation requirements.

For paper returns, the filer should write the word deceased, the deceased person’s name and the date of death across the top. Here’s who should sign the return:

  • If there isn’t an appointed representative, the surviving spouse filing a joint return should sign the return and write in the signature area labeled, filing as surviving spouse.
  • If there’s no appointed representative and no surviving spouse, the person in charge of the deceased person’s property must file and sign the return as “personal representative.”

Other documents to include

According to Mike Poynter, if tax is due, the filer should submit payment with the return. He or she can also visit the payments page of IRS.gov for other payment options – especially if they are not able to pay the amount due immediately. Your Teipen CPA can also help you qualify for a payment plan or installment agreement.