What is a 'Qualifying Widow/Widower'

A qualifying widow/widower is a federal tax filing status available to a widow or widower for two years after the spouse's death. While the surviving spouse cannot continue to claim an exemption for the deceased spouse, he can take the same standard deduction as a married couple filing jointly. To claim this status, the IRS also requires that the taxpayer not be remarried, have a child claimed as a dependent, that the child live in the home with the widow/widower all year, that the widow/widower pay over half the cost of keeping up the home, and that the widow/widower was eligible to file a joint return in the year the spouse died.

BREAKING DOWN 'Qualifying Widow/Widower'

An individual may pay less in federal income tax when filing as a qualifying widow/widower. This is especially helpful when the person may be paying off funeral costs or medical bills incurred before a spouse’s death. Any means of relieving the financial burden on a family is welcome. For a set time period, the remaining spouse may be able to take advantage of the standard deduction amount and tax brackets being equal to those of a married couple filing jointly.

For example, Paul’s wife Sarah dies in 2016. Paul was planning on filing a joint tax return with Sarah. He has their 12-year-old daughter, Leann, living with him year-round at the time of Sarah’s death. Paul does not remarry and pays all the costs of maintaining their home. Therefore, Paul may file as married filing jointly in 2016 and as a qualifying widow/widower for the 2017 and 2018 tax years.

After the two years are up, the individual must choose a different filing status. If the person is remarried, he may choose Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. If the person is single, he may file under Single status unless qualifying as Head of Household.

Dependents for Qualifying Widow/Widower Status

A son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter living with the remaining spouse must be related by blood or adoption. For this reason, foster children do not qualify. The taxpayer must cover more than half of the expenses involved with mortgage or rent payments, property taxes, utilities and groceries. The dependent must live with the remaining spouse all year. As long as the minor returns home after some time away, vacation, education, medical treatment, military service or business activities are acceptable reasons for temporary absences. In addition, if the child involved in filing under qualifying widow/widower status is born or dies during the year, a taxpayer may still file under that status as long as the taxpayer paid enough expenses when maintaining the child’s home when the child was alive.

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