For those who have suffered the loss of a spouse, there is a special filing status designed to ease the financial burden of the grieving family.
For the year that the spouse passes away, 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 if they are also maintaining a household for a son or daughter.
What is Qualifying Widow/Widower With Dependent Child filing status?
A person's filing status determines which standard deduction amount and which tax rates are used in calculating a person's federal income tax for the year. For 2014, persons who file as Qualifying Widow/Widower can claim a standard deduction amount of $12,400 (or itemized deductions if higher than the standard deduction amount). The 2014 tax rates for qualifying widows/widowers are as follows:
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The chief benefit of Qualifying Widow/Widower status is that the standard deduction amount and the tax brackets are exactly the same as the married filing jointly status.
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 Status
A surviving spouse may be eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower status for the two years following the year in which his or her spouse passed away. For the tax year 2014, for example, the surviving spouse may be eligible if his or her spouse passed away in either 2012 or 2013. After two years, the surviving spouse would no 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 Status
The 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. Even though foster children are not included in the definition, nor any other types of dependent, that does not 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 Child
To 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. You must continue to keep up the home during the absence" (from Publication 501).
- Internal Revenue Code section 2(a), which defines surviving spouses; see also the related Treasury Regulations section 1.2-2.
- Publication 501, Exemptions, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information, especially the section on qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.
- Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax, especially the sections on spouse died during the year and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child.
- J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax, chapters 1.10 and 1.11.