Blog , Finance

Filing a Tax Return for a Deceased Person

Posted on Tuesday, August 22, 2023
by AMAC, D.J. Wilson

“Death and taxes” is a slogan attributed to one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. It is derived from a 1789 letter in which he penned, “…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” These words hold true today.

The business of losing a loved one is complicated

Filing a tax return for a deceased person is emotionally hard. Losing a loved one, such as a spouse or parent, is heart-wrenching. In addition to high emotions, complicating matters further are personal details to which must be attended, such as having to file taxes on behalf of the departed. Generally, one must file and prepare a final individual income tax return for the deceased individual as if that person was alive. All income must be reported up to the date of death.

Who is responsible for filing the return?

The Estate’s Administrator, or personal representative of an estate as executor, or anyone else in charge of the decedent’s financial affairs is responsible for reporting income that the deceased earned prior to their passing. This is typically done using Form 1040 for U.S. Individual Tax Returns. Taxes are generally due by the regular April 15 tax deadline, but extensions may be filed. To learn more about filing an income tax return for a deceased parent, visit our related article here.

What if deceased person has not filed taxes in years prior to their death?

If the person who died has not filed an individual income tax return for the years prior to the year of their death, a tax return must still be filed if there is a filing requirement. The IRS shares that it is the responsibility of those in charge (personal representatives) to pay any balance due and to submit a claim if there’s a refund.

What if debt is involved?

If a deceased person owes taxes, the IRS can pursue the Estate until the outstanding debt is paid. The IRS can step in and take legal action by placing a federal lien against the Estate for unpaid taxes. The Collection Statute Expiration Date (CSED) for tax collection is roughly 10 years and may be extended beyond that time frame. The IRS wants the funds due, and debt is not “simply forgiven.”

What if you fail to pay the taxes for a deceased person?

If a deceased person’s back taxes are ignored, their account will likely result in penalties and interest. The IRS may decide to go after the surviving spouse, the estate, and sometimes even the executor. In the case where taxes are filed jointly, say by a spouse, the surviving spouse is liable for the taxes owed. The IRS is free to take steps to enforce collection and they can issue garnishments, liens and levies to secure the payment of taxes.

What if I’m confused about how to file or what to pay?

Often, filing taxes is not at the forefront of things to do. Despite how traumatic it is to file a tax return for a deceased person, taxes are still due, and mistakes can be costly. Filing taxes can be a tricky business, especially on behalf of someone who is deceased with a complicated tax history. For this reason, do seek the advice of a tax professional, such as a CPA, if you are unable to collect and organize information needed for the final return, you feel overwhelmed trying to understand which forms to submit, or if you are unable to accurately complete and file the return in a timely manner. Never ignore taxes due or deadlines. Note that the IRS is typically willing to work with taxpayers to offer solutions to those who are handling a deceased person’s outstanding taxes. Click here to learn more from the IRS about how to file a final tax return for someone who has passed away.

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