Filing Tax Returns for Deceased Individuals

A commonly overlooked issue in estate administration is the filing of the decedent’s final tax return. Even if there are no assets to administer, a person may have had substantial income that requires reporting to the IRS. If the final return is not filed, the IRS will have incomplete records which will be that much harder to correct the longer they go on. If you have this responsibility, I would like to share some information on how you can successfully discharge your duties and avoid potential personal liability for the deceased person’s tax obligation.

First, you will need to determine whether the deceased person would have been required to file a tax return for that year. If the decedent had taxable income and is required to file, the decedent’s spouse, personal representative or heir will need to prepare and file the return. The IRS has an Interactive Tax Assistant application to assist taxpayers in determining who should prepare and sign.

The IRS is not as stringent about who needs to sign the return when there is no refund on the return; but when there is a refund, the IRS will require the signor to have legal authority over the decedent’s estate or property, and may require additional forms to be filed such as Form 1310, Statement of Person Claiming a Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer.

In general, the final return for a decedent is prepared on the same 1040 forms that are used by living persons, but with some required user modifications. If you are filing a tax return for a deceased person you should write the words “DECEASED,” the person’s full legal name, and the date of their death, on the tax return in the margin at the top of the page. This is true even if you are filing a joint return for the deceased person and the surviving spouse.

The final tax return has the same filing due date that the decedent’s return would have been due if she were still alive. The IRS does not require you to attach a copy of the decedent’s death certificate to the return.

If you think you may need to file a final tax return for a deceased person, an experienced tax and estate planning attorney at Nielsen Law Group is available for a complimentary review of your situation. You can schedule your initial consultation by calling (480) 888-7111 or submitting a web request here.