IRS Pub. 17, Your Federal Income Tax
The same filing requirements that apply to individuals
determine if a final income tax return must be filed for the decedent.
Filing requirements are discussed in chapter 1.
Filing to get a refund.
If none of the filing requirements are met, but the decedent had
tax withheld or paid estimated tax, a final return should be filed to
get a refund. See Claiming a refund, later. A final return
should also be filed if the decedent was entitled to a refundable
credit such as the earned income credit. See chapters 37
and 38 for
additional information on refundable credits.
Determining income and deductions.
The method of accounting used by the decedent before death
generally determines what income you must include and what deductions
you can take on the final return. Generally, individuals use one of
two methods of accounting: cash or accrual.
If the decedent used the cash method of accounting, which most
people use, report only the items of income that the decedent actually
or constructively received before death and deduct only the expenses
the decedent paid before death. For an exception for certain medical
expenses not paid before death, see Medical costs, later,
If the decedent used an accrual method of accounting, report only
those items of income that the decedent accrued, or earned, before
death. Deduct those expenses the decedent was liable for before death,
regardless of whether the expenses were paid.
For more information on the cash and accrual methods, see
Accounting Methods in chapter 1.
Who must file the return?
The personal representative of the decedent is responsible for
filing any income tax returns and paying any income tax that is due.
This includes the final income tax return of the decedent (for the
year of death) and any returns not filed for preceding years.
Roberta Russell died on February 5, 1999, before filing her 1998
tax return. Her personal representative must file her 1998 tax return
as well as her final tax return for 1999.
Under certain circumstances, a surviving spouse may be able to file
a joint final return or joint returns for preceding years for which
returns have not yet been filed. See Joint return, later.
Filing the return.
When you file a return for the decedent, either as the personal
representative or as the surviving spouse, you should write
"DECEASED," the decedent's name, and the date of death
across the top of the tax return. This same information should
be included on any Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax
Return, that you file for the decedent.
If the decedent and surviving spouse are filing a joint return, you
should write the name and address of the decedent and the surviving
spouse in the name and address space. If you received a peel-off label
with the correct information, you can use it. Be sure to enter your
SSN, and the SSN of your spouse in the appropriate space.
If a joint return is not being filed, write the decedent's name in
the name space and the personal representative's name and address in
the remaining space.
John Stone died in early 1998. He was survived by his wife Jane.
Their final joint return included the required information as shown
later in the illustration of the top of Form 1040.
Form 1040 Label and Signature Area
Signing the return.
If a personal representative has been appointed, the personal
representative must sign the return. If a joint return is filed, the
surviving spouse must also sign it.
If no personal representative has been appointed by the due date
for filing the return, the surviving spouse (on a joint return) should
sign the return and write in the signature area "Filing as surviving
spouse." See Joint return, later.
If no personal representative has been appointed and if there is no
surviving spouse, the person in charge of the decedent's property must
file and sign the return as "personal representative."
Assume in Example 1 that Mrs. Stone is filing as a surviving
spouse. No personal representative has been appointed. She signs their
final joint return as shown later in the illustration of the bottom of
Claiming a refund.
Generally, a person who is filing a return for a decedent and
claiming a refund must file
Form 1310, Statement of
Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer, with the return.
If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return with the
decedent, you do not have to file Form 1310.
Appointed personal representative.
If you are a court appointed or certified personal representative
filing Form 1040, Form 1040A, or Form 1040EZ for the decedent, you
also do not have to file Form 1310, but you must attach to the return
a copy of the court certificate showing your appointment. If the
certificate does not include your address, be sure that your address
is shown on the return. See Filing the return, earlier.
Joe Brown died on January 14, 1999, before filing his 1998 tax
return. On April 5, 1999, you are appointed the personal
representative for Joe's estate, and you file his Form 1040 for 1998
showing a refund due. You do not need to attach Form 1310 to claim the
refund, but you must attach to his return a copy of the court
certificate to show that you are the appointed personal representative
of Joe's estate.
When and where to file.
The final return is due by the date the decedent's return would
have been due had death not occurred. The final return for a calendar
year taxpayer is generally due by April 15 of the year following the
year of death. However, when the due date for filing tax returns falls
on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, you can file on the next
File the decedent's final income tax return with the Internal
Revenue Service Center for the area where you live.
Request for prompt assessment of tax.
As the personal representative for the decedent's estate, you must
see that any additional taxes that the decedent may owe are paid. The
IRS usually has 3 years after the filing of a return to charge any
additional tax that is due. Returns filed before the due date are
treated as filed on the due date.
You can shorten the time that the IRS has to charge the decedent's
estate any additional tax by requesting a prompt assessment of the
decedent's income taxes. This request reduces the time the IRS has to
charge any additional tax from 3 years from the date the return is
filed to 18 months from the date the IRS receives the request. This
may permit a quicker settlement of the tax liability of the estate and
earlier distribution of the decedent's assets, such as money and
property, to the beneficiaries.
You can make the request for any tax year still subject to
additional tax charges, even if the return was filed before the
Requesting this prompt assessment will not shorten the time the IRS
has to charge any additional tax if it can be charged beyond the 3
years from the date the return was filed or due. For example,
additional tax can still be charged because of a substantial omission
of income or if a fraudulent return was filed.
How to request.
You can use
Form 4810 for making this
request. If Form 4810 is not used, you must clearly indicate that you
are requesting a prompt assessment under section 6501(d) of the
Internal Revenue Code and specify the year(s) involved. You must file
the request separately from any other document. Address your request
to the District Director and send it to the IRS office where the
decedent's return was filed.
Request for discharge from personal liability for tax.
An executor can make a written request for a discharge from
personal liability for a decedent's income and gift taxes. The request
must be made after the returns for those taxes are filed. For this
purpose an executor is an executor or administrator that is
appointed, qualified, and acting within the United States.
Within 9 months after receipt of the request, the IRS will notify
the executor of the amount of taxes due. If this amount is paid, the
executor will be discharged from personal liability for any future
deficiencies. If the IRS has not notified the executor, he or she will
be discharged from personal liability at the end of the 9-month
Even if the executor is discharged, the IRS will still be able to
assess tax deficiencies against the executor to the extent that he or
she still has any of the decedent's property.
Form 5495 can be used for making this request. If Form 5495 is not
used, you must clearly indicate that the request is for discharge from
personal liability under section 6905 of the Internal Revenue Code.
Generally, the personal representative and the surviving spouse can
file a joint return for the decedent and the surviving spouse.
However, the surviving spouse alone can file the joint return if:
- The decedent did not file a return for that year, and
- No personal representative is appointed before the due date
for filing the return of the surviving spouse.
This also applies to the return for the preceding year if the
decedent died after the close of the preceding tax year and before the
due date for filing that return. The final joint return must show the
decedent's income before death and the surviving spouse's income for
the entire year.
If the surviving spouse remarried before the end of the year in
which the decedent died, a final joint return with the deceased spouse
cannot be filed. The filing status of the deceased spouse is then
married filing separately.
Change to joint return.
If a separate return was filed by or for the decedent, and the due
date for filing that return has expired, that return can be changed to
a joint return only by the personal representative on behalf of the
decedent. The surviving spouse must also agree to the change. A
surviving spouse cannot change a separate return to a joint return if
no personal representative has been appointed.
Change to separate return.
If the surviving spouse files a joint return with the decedent and
a personal representative is later appointed by the court, the
personal representative can change the joint return election. This is
done by filing a separate return for the decedent within one year from
the due date of the return (including any extensions).
If a separate return is filed for the decedent, the joint return
then becomes the separate return of the surviving spouse. The
decedent's items are excluded, and the tax liability of the surviving
spouse is refigured.
How To Report
This section explains how to report certain types of income on the
final return. The rules on income discussed in the other chapters of
this publication also apply to a decedent's final return. See chapters 6
through 17, if they apply.
Interest and Dividend Income
Payers of interest and dividends report amounts on Forms 1099 using
the name and identification number of the person to whom the account
is payable. After a person's death, the Forms 1099 must reflect the
new owner's (the estate's or beneficiary's) name and identification
number. As the personal representative, you must furnish this
information to the payers.
For example, if an interest-bearing account becomes part of the
estate, you must provide the estate's name and employer identification
number (EIN) to the payer so that the Form 1099-INT,
Interest Income, can reflect the correct payee information.
If the interest-bearing account is transferred to a surviving joint
owner, you must provide the survivor's name and taxpayer
identification number (TIN) to the payer.
You should receive Forms 1099 for the decedent that report amounts
of interest and dividends earned prior to death. The estate or
beneficiary should receive separate Forms 1099 that report the amounts
earned after death and that are payable to them.
If you receive Forms 1099 that include both income earned before
the date of death (reportable on the decedent's final return) and
income earned after the date of death (reportable by the estate or
other recipient), then you will need to request new Forms 1099. You
should contact the payers to ask them for corrected Forms 1099 that
properly identify the recipient of the income (by name and
identification number) and the correct amounts.
A capital loss sustained by a decedent during his or her last tax
year can be deducted only on the final return filed for the decedent.
The capital loss limits discussed in chapter 17
still apply in this
situation. The loss cannot be deducted by the estate or carried over
to following years.
Accelerated Death Benefits
If certain requirements are met, accelerated death benefits are
excluded from the recipient's income. Accelerated death benefits are
amounts received under a life insurance contract before the death of
the insured individual. These benefits also include amounts received
on the sale or assignment of the contract to a viatical settlement
provider. This exclusion applies only if the insured was a terminally
or chronically ill individual.
Generally, if the decedent received accelerated death benefits
either on his or her own life or on the life of another person, those
benefits are not included in the decedent's income. For more
information, see the discussion under Gifts, Insurance, and
Inheritances under Other Tax Information, in
This section discusses some of the business income which may have
to be included on the final return.
If the decedent was a partner, his or her death generally does not
close the partnership's tax year. See Closing of tax year
under Tax Year in Publication 541,
If the partnership year ends with the death of a partner, see
Deceased partner under Distributive Share in Year of
Disposition in Publication 541.
As the personal representative, you must include on the
final return the decedent's share of partnership income for the
partnership's tax year that ends within or with the decedent's last
tax year (the year ending on the date of death).
Do not include
on the final return the decedent's share of partnership income for
a partnership's tax year that ends after the date of death. In this
case, partnership income earned up to and including the date of death
is income in respect of the decedent, which is discussed
later in this chapter. Income earned after the date of death to the
end of the partnership's tax year is income to the estate or successor
in interest (beneficiary).
The XYZ Partnership and all the partners use a calendar year as
their tax year. One of the partners dies on June 10. The decedent's
share of the partnership income from January 1 through June 10 is
income in respect of a decedent. The share of partnership income after
June 10 is income to the estate or beneficiary.
S corporation income.
If the decedent was a shareholder in an S corporation, you must
include on the final return the decedent's share of S corporation
income for the corporation's tax year that ends within or with the
decedent's last tax year (the year ending on the date of death). The
final return must also include the decedent's pro rata share of the S
corporation's income for the period between the end of the
corporation's last tax year and the date of death.
The income for the part of the S corporation's tax year after the
shareholder's death is income to the estate or other person who has
acquired the stock in the S corporation.
You must include on the final return the self-employment income
that the decedent actually or constructively received or accrued,
depending on the decedent's accounting method. For self-employment tax
purposes only, the decedent's self-employment income will include the
decedent's distributive share of a partnership's income or loss
through the end of the month in which death occurred. For more
information on how to compute the decedent's self-employment income,
see Publication 533,
Medical Savings Account (MSA)
The treatment of a medical savings account at the death of the
account holder depends on who acquires the interest in the account. If
the estate of the holder acquires the interest, the fair market value
of the assets in the account on the date of death is included in gross
income on the decedent's final return. The estate tax deduction,
discussed later, does not apply to this amount.
If a beneficiary acquires the interest, see the discussion under
Income in Respect of the Decedent, later. For other
information on MSAs, see Publication 969,
Generally, the rules for deductions, credits, and exemptions that
apply to individuals also apply to the decedent's final income tax
return. On the final return, claim deductible items that were paid
before the decedent's death (or accrued, if the decedent reported
deductions on an accrual method).
All of the deductions that are discussed in this publication also
apply to the final return as long as the decedent was eligible for the
deduction at the time of death.
You can generally choose to claim itemized deductions or the
standard deduction on the final return. See Standard deduction,
later, for instances when you cannot choose the standard
deduction or when the amount of the standard deduction may be limited.
If you have a choice, you should figure the amount of the
decedent's itemized deductions before you decide whether to itemize or
claim the standard deduction to be sure that you are using the method
that gives you the lower tax.
If the total of the decedent's itemized deductions is more than the
decedent's standard deduction, the federal income tax will generally
be less if you claim itemized deductions on the final return. See
through 30 for the types of expenses that are allowed as
The amount you can deduct for most itemized deductions is limited
if adjusted gross income is more than $124,500 ($62,250 if married
filing separately). See chapter 22
for more information.
If you itemize deductions on the final return, you may be able to
deduct medical expenses of the decedent even though they were not paid
before the date of death. See Decedents in chapter 23
an explanation of how this election can be made.
Qualified medical expenses paid before death by the decedent are
not deductible if paid with a tax-free distribution from a medical
Unrecovered investment in pension.
If the decedent was receiving a pension or annuity and died without
a surviving annuitant, you can take a deduction on the decedent's
final return for the amount of the decedent's investment in the
pension or annuity contract that remained unrecovered at death. The
deduction is a miscellaneous itemized deduction that is not subject to
the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit. See chapter 30.
You can generally claim the full amount of the standard deduction
on the decedent's final return. However, you cannot use the standard
deduction if the surviving spouse files a separate return and itemizes
deductions. In that event, you must also itemize deductions on the
decedent's final return.
The amount of the standard deduction for a decedent's final return
is the same as it would have been had the decedent continued to live.
However, if the decedent was not 65 or older at the time of death, the
higher standard deduction for age cannot be claimed.
If another taxpayer can claim the decedent as a dependent, the
amount you can claim for the decedent's standard deduction may be
limited. See chapter 21
for more information on how to determine the
amount of the standard deduction.
Any of the tax credits that are discussed in this publication also
apply to the final return if the decedent was eligible for the credits
at the time of death. These credits are discussed in chapters 33
through 38 of this publication.
Tax withheld and estimated payments.
There may have been income tax withheld from the decedent's pay,
pensions, or annuities before death, and the decedent may have paid
estimated income tax. To get credit for these tax payments, you must
claim them on the decedent's final return. For more information, see
Credit for Withholding and Estimated Tax in chapter 5.
You can claim the full amount of the personal exemption on the
decedent's final return unless the decedent can be claimed as a
dependent by another taxpayer. In that case, the decedent's own
exemption amount on the final return is zero. See chapter 3
information on other dependency exemptions that may be allowed on the
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