How to File Taxes for a Deceased Relative

Find out how to file a tax return after a death in the family.

Upon a death in the family, there will likely be a number of unpleasant tasks to perform. Because death and taxes are inevitable, one of those typical tasks is to file the decedent’s final federal — and state, if applicable — income tax return.

When you’re the surviving relative of a deceased person, learn the basics of filing an income tax return on behalf of your loved one. And don’t make excuses to put off filing — the estate might incur penalties if you miss the April tax deadline.

Filing the Return of a Deceased Relative

The IRS requires someone to file taxes for the relative who has passed. “A final return can be submitted by the surviving spouse or a personal representative,” said Andrew Oswalt, CPA and tax analyst for TaxAct, a tax preparation software company.

“A personal representative of an estate is an executor of estate, executor of will, administrator or anyone who is in charge of the decedent’s will to administer the estate and distribute properties. An administrator is usually appointed by the probate court if no will exists, if no executor was named in the will or if the named executor cannot or will not serve,” Oswalt said. Additionally, when filing taxes for deceased with no estate, an administrator also has to be appointed.

Learn: What You Need to Know When Filing Your Tax Return This Year

Who Signs Form 1040 for a Deceased Taxpayer?

When a personal representative prepares a decedent’s tax return, he must write the word “deceased,” the decedent’s name and the date of death across the top of the return — and sign it. When the decedent did not appoint a personal representative, the surviving spouse must sign the return and write “filing as surviving spouse” on it. Sign your name along with your late spouse’s if you’re filing or e-filing income tax using a joint return.

When a deceased taxpayer refund check is due, file Form 1310 — Statement of a Person Claiming a Refund Due to Deceased Taxpayer — and indicate a refund is due on the return. Form 1310 isn’t required if a surviving spouse is filing a joint return with the decedent.

How to Figure Out Income and Deductions Time Frame

To figure out how to file correctly, keep in mind that a decedent’s income is generally counted from Jan. 1 to the day before he died. For example, if your spouse died April 2, his final tax return would cover the period from Jan. 1 to April 1. One exception to this is medical bills — to claim those as deductible expenses, the estate must pay them within a year of the decedent’s date of death. These medical expenses cannot be included on Form 706, U.S. Estate Tax Return.

Find Out: Medical Expenses You Can Deduct From Your Taxes

How to Handle Gifts and Inheritances

When you inherit property or money from a deceased person, you might wonder if it will be considered taxable income. Currently, only six states charge an inheritance tax, and inheritance tax exemptions also exist. But upon selling inherited property, you might have to pay taxes on the profits you receive, depending on the basis of inherited property.

How to Handle an Inherited IRA

When you inherit a traditional IRA from someone other than your spouse, you can’t treat the inherited IRA as your own. You must make a trustee-to-trustee transfer to an IRA in the name of the decedent.

Different taxation rules apply to distributions from inherited IRAs if you were married to the decedent. As a late individual’s spouse, you have three options when you inherit an IRA:

  1. Designate yourself as the account owner.
  2. Designate yourself as the beneficiary of the IRA.
  3. Roll it over into a traditional IRA or another qualified plan.

In the event that the decedent invested in a Roth IRA, there are specific rules about distributions, too. Because inheriting an IRA can be tricky tax-wise, consider getting a tax professional’s advice regarding your best option.

Prevent Tax Identity Theft of a Deceased Relative

Criminals often try to steal a decedent’s identity. “The risks are real — deceased persons’ identities are stolen every year,” said Oswalt. “Many death records are public, and many thieves use that information to their advantage.”

To prevent theft of a decedent’s identity, take the following steps outlined by the IRS:

  • Omit personal information from the decedent’s obituary.
  • Give the IRS death notification by sending it a copy of the death certificate immediately.
  • Send copies of the death certificate to the three credit reporting bureaus and instruct them to put a “deceased alert” on the decedent’s credit report.
  • Review the deceased’s credit report for any questionable activity.

Related: 7 Signs You’re the Victim of a Tax Scam

Reduce Filing Stress

Filing taxes for deceased relatives and handling other wills and probate obligations can be confusing, time-consuming and unpleasant. Consider enlisting the aid of an accountant or other tax professional to assist you during this stressful time.

Up Next: How to Close a Checking Account When a Loved One Dies

Cynthia Measom contributed to the reporting for this article.