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Filing the final income tax return for a decedent

On Behalf of | Jan 23, 2023 | Probate

When Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes,” he likely wasn’t in your position as an executor of an estate who has to file a loved one’s final income tax return. However, that quote is nonetheless applicable. 

Along with everything else you have to do, you have the responsibility of filing this return for 2022 — and possibly further back. You’ll need to ensure that there aren’t any unfiled returns or unpaid taxes for previous years. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume the only return you need to worry about is for 2022.

Where do you start?

If you are also the surviving spouse, it’s a fairly uncomplicated process – especially if you have always filed joint returns. You just need to put “Filing as surviving spouse” on the signature line for your late spouse. However, if you aren’t the spouse, you will need to submit IRS Form 56 with their return to indicate that you have the authority to file on behalf of the deceased.

Do you have the documents you need?

Filing a deceased person’s final income tax return isn’t that different from filing your own in that you’ll need to have the same information at hand, including:

  • The previous year’s tax return
  • Income documents like 1099s and W-2s
  • Deductible expenses like medical bills

If the deceased wasn’t especially organized or perhaps they were very ill during the last year of their life, you may have to do some digging. If you need to get copies of some of these documents, you’ll likely need to provide a copy of the death certificate and perhaps a copy of that IRS Form 56. 

If you think you’re going to need an extension from the IRS, you can request one. Note that the IRS doesn’t automatically give extensions for deceased taxpayers.

You may still have other taxes to deal with

Remember that income taxes and estate taxes are completely separate things. Estate taxes have to be paid for estates valued at over $12.06 million (for 2022) and $12.92 million (for 2023).

It’s a lot to deal with, and this just scratches the surface. If you’re the executor of an estate, it’s wise to get as much professional guidance as you need to avoid costly errors that can draw out and complicate the probate process. Having sound legal guidance is especially crucial.