In the year that the spouse died, the surviving spouse may choose to file either jointly with his or her deceased spouse or file a separate return. In the two subsequent years, the surviving spouse may be able to use the Qualifying Widow/Widower With Dependent Child filing status.
The Qualifying Widow/Widower with Dependent Child filing status is available for taxpayers whose spouse has died in either of the two preceding tax years and who are maintaining a household for a son or daughter.
The criteria for being eligible for this filing status:
- The taxpayer was eligible to file a joint return with his or her spouse for the year during which the spouse died, whether or not a joint return was filed.
- The taxpayer's spouse died during either of the two immediately preceding tax years.
- The taxpayer has not remarried during the tax year.
- The taxpayer maintains a home for at least one dependent who is a son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter, whether related by blood or adoption. This dependent resides with the taxpayer for the entire tax year except for temporary absences.
Two Year Rule for Qualifying Widow/Widower StatusA surviving spouse may be eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower status for the two years following the year in which his or her spouse died. For the tax year 2012, for example, the surviving spouse may be eligible if his or her spouse died in either 2011 or 2010. After two years, the surviving spouse would not longer be eligible as Qualifying Widow/Widower, and would need to choose another filing status.
Types of Dependents that Qualify a Taxpayer for Qualifying Widow/Widower StatusThe surviving spouse must be eligible to claim his or her son or daughter or stepson or stepdaughter as a dependent. This is true whether the child is related by blood or adoption. However, foster children are not included in the definition, nor are other types of dependents included in this definition. That doesn't mean a surviving spouse cannot claim these other types of dependents. What we're looking at is whether a taxpayer is eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower filing status.
Maintaining a Home for a Dependent ChildTo be eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower filing status, the taxpayer needs to maintain a home for a son or daughter or stepson or stepdaughter. Maintaining a home means that the taxpayer furnished over half the cost of keeping up the home. Costs of keeping up a home include rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities, and groceries.
Further, the child would need to reside in the same household as the taxpayer for the entire year, except for temporary absences. Temporary absences such as illness, education, business, vacation, or military service will not disqualify a taxpayer for the Qualifying Widow/Widower status. As the IRS notes, "It must be reasonable to assume the absent person will return to the home after the temporary absence" (Publication 501).