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My spouse passed away this year. When I file my taxes, what filing status should I claim?

As the surviving spouse, you have several filing choices that may be appropriate. You may be able to choose married filing jointly, married filing separately, qualifying widow(er), or head of household.

  • Married filing jointly: You can usually file a joint return for the year your spouse died. Generally, you'll have to file in cooperation with the executor or administrator of your spouse's estate. If you remarry before year-end, you cannot file a joint return with your deceased spouse for that year.
  • Married filing separately: To determine the most advantageous approach, you should figure taxes according to both the married filing jointly status and the married filing separately status.
  • Qualifying widow(er): If you meet certain requirements (e.g., you support a dependent child for whom you can claim a tax exemption, and you have not remarried), you can file as a qualifying widow(er) in each of the two years following the year of your spouse's death. This status allows you to use the married filing jointly tax rates.
  • Head of household: If you are ineligible to file jointly or as a qualifying widow(er), the head of household filing status may be possible. To qualify, you must provide support for a relative and meet several conditions.

Regardless of whether you file a joint return or a separate return for your spouse, you must write "DECEASED" across the top of the return, along with your spouse's name and date of death.

If you file a joint return and no personal representative has been appointed, write your (and your spouse's) name, address, and Social Security number in the regular name/address space at the top of the return. To sign the return, write "Filing as Surviving Spouse" in the space for your spouse's signature, then sign in the space for your own signature. If you are not filing a joint return, write your spouse's name at the top of the return and the personal representative's name and address in the remaining space. If a personal representative has been appointed, he or she must sign the return. Again, you must also sign if it is a joint return.

For additional details, consult a tax professional.