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Filing Status for Years After Spouse’s Death

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By Amanda L. Richter, CPA

Taxpayers must use one of five filing statuses when filing their individual tax return. Your filing status determines your income tax rate and the amount of your standard deduction. When selecting a filing status, you may qualify for more than one status. You will want to select the filing status that results in the lowest tax.

In the year of your spouse’s death, you can still file a joint tax return. It is your responsibility to file a final return for your deceased spouse. While you can’t file a joint return for a tax year after the year in which your spouse died, you can continue to use the joint return rates for two more years if you qualify as a “surviving spouse.” The joint return rates are more favorable than the single rates or the head-of-household rates. A surviving spouse also receives a larger standard deduction than a single taxpayer or head of household.

To qualify as a “surviving spouse,” you must meet all of these requirements:

  • You have a child who qualifies as your “dependent” for the tax year.
  • Your spouse died during one of the two years immediately preceding the tax year for which the return is being filed.
  • The child lived with you for the entire year, except for temporary absences.
  • You paid over half the cost of maintaining your home.
  • You were eligible to file a joint return with your deceased spouse for the tax year of the death (even if you didn’t actually file jointly).
  • You have not remarried before the end of the tax year for which the return is being filed.

If you do not meet the requirements for surviving spouse status and you do not have a qualifying dependent, than you will file as Single for the tax years after your spouse’s death.

Adjusting income tax withholding. As a result of your spouse’s death, you may be have to adjust the amount of income tax you have withheld or make quarterly estimated tax payments. To ensure that the correct amount of tax is withheld, you should check your withholding and, if necessary, submit a new Form W-4 with the revised information.

Remarriage. If you remarry, you won’t be able to file as a surviving spouse, but you’ll be able to file a joint return with your new spouse.

Ask Kit Kat: USDA and Cat Experiments

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the USDA and their decision to end experiments using cats?

Kit Kat: Well, in my opinion, this decision was long overdue. The announcement was made on April 3, 2019. “The agency said cats will no longer be used as ‘part of any research protocol in any ARS (Agricultural Research Service) laboratory’ and the remaining cats in its labs are in the process of being adopted by USDA employees.” This is a huge victory for cats! As the White Coat Waste Project, an animal advocacy group, has revealed, cats used in research by the USDA were in some cases injected with parasites to learn of ways to control certain diseases like toxoplasmosis in both felines and humans. Afterwards, they were put to death once the research had been completed.  Though the goal was laudable, the means were not.

There were 14 cats remaining at USDA-ARS labs which had not been infected with parasites, and these will be adopted. It took advocacy by several animal rights organizations as well as by the US Congress to accomplish this result. It’s great to see advocacy that results in permanent change. The saying “You can make a difference,” is certainly true. (Hilary Hanson, “USDA Ends Deadly Cat Experiments, Plans to Adopt Out Remaining Cats,” The Huffington Post, April 2, 2019)

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Posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2019. Filed under Senior Law News.
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