Filing Taxes After Losing Your Spouse

Learn how to file your late spouse’s final tax return, how their passing affects your filing status, and other valuable information. 

April is Bereaved Spouses Month, with the focus on men and women who lost their spouses or partners. April 18th is also Income Tax Day in the U.S. If your loved one passed away, how do you take care of their final tax return? What filing status should you use after your husband or wife passes away?

Keep reading to learn what to do when it comes to filing your federal income taxes for yourself and your late spouse. 

File Your Taxes as Usual

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), you file a loved one’s final tax return in the same manner as a normal return. You include all income, including Social Security and pensions, credits, and deductions. Most people use either the standard 1040 form, or 1040-SR for individuals 65 and older. 

Changes in Your Filing Status

You may choose “married filing jointly” for tax returns the same year that your spouse passed away. For future tax returns, you can only file jointly if you remarry. Some couples prefer to choose “married filing separately”. 

Qualifying Widow(er) Filing Status

In the first two years after your spouse’s passing, you might be eligible to file as a qualified widow(er). There are no additional tax breaks for this status, but your standard deduction is twice as much as single filing status. 

Qualifying Widow Requirements

  • You claim a child, stepchild, or adopted child as your dependent – this does not apply to foster children. 
  • You qualified for married filing jointly in the tax year your spouse passed away. (You’re not penalized if you didn’t file as married filing jointly, only that you qualified.) 
  • You paid more than half the cost of maintaining the main home of your dependent child for the entire year, excluding brief absences. 
  • You didn’t remarry before the end of the tax year your spouse passed away. 

Head of Household Status

If you are a foster parent, you could file as head of household. Heads of household taxpayers receive a higher standard deduction than individuals who file single or married filing separately.

Single Status

Although filing single status has a lower standard deduction, you might be entitled to additional deductions or tax credits, including:

  • American opportunity tax credit
  • Lifetime learning credit
  • Student loan interest deduction
  • Charitable donation deduction
  • Earned income tax credit


Q: What if my spouse passed away before signing the joint tax return?

A: You may write “Filing as Surviving Spouse” in the text block. Then, write “Deceased” on the top of the tax return, along with their name and date of passing. A personal representative may also file the final tax return. 

Q: Do I need to attach a copy of the death certificate to the return?

A: It’s not necessary to include a copy of the death certificate with the tax return. 

Q: What if my late spouse receives a tax refund?

A: Surviving spouses and personal representatives will receive the taxpayer’s refund normally. If someone else files the final tax return, they must complete Form 1310 (Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due to Deceased Taxpayer). 

Q: Who is responsible for paying taxes for my late spouse?

A: Taxes should be paid by the estate, generally before any payouts are made to beneficiaries. If the estate doesn’t cover the tax bill, you might qualify for a payment plan with the IRS.

Q: Can I file my spouse’s final tax return electronically?

A: Final tax returns may be filed electronically. 

Q: Where can I get more information or help with my late spouse’s taxes? 

A: The IRS offers free filing assistance for all taxpayers on their website. 


This blog is not a substitute for professional tax guidance and is for informational purposes only.