Who Is a Qualifying Widower or Widow? Tax Filing Status Explained

What Is a Qualified Widow or Widower?

The term qualified widow or widower refers to a tax filing status that allows a surviving spouse to use the married filing jointly tax rates on an individual return. The provision is good for up to two years following the death of the individual's spouse. The taxpayer must remain unmarried for at least two years following the death of their spouse in order to qualify for this status. Filing as a qualified widow(er) allows the taxpayer to receive the highest standard deduction for their taxes, provided they do not itemize deductions.

Key Takeaways

  • Qualified widow or widower is a tax filing status that allows a surviving spouse to use the married filing jointly tax rates on their tax return.
  • The survivor must remain unmarried for at least two years following the year of the spouse’s death to qualify for the tax status.
  • The taxpayer must have at least one dependent child and have handled at least half of the household costs.
  • The qualifying widow(er) status offers the same standard deduction amount and tax bracket ranges as those for married couples who file jointly.
  • The surviving spouse must file as single or head of household following the third year of their spouse's death.

Understanding Qualified Widows or Widowers

Qualifying Widow(er) is one of the five official filing statuses of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It provides financial relief for those who lose their spouses and may be struggling with death-related expenses or other regular household bills. Using the qualified widow(er) status allows the surviving spouse to file taxes as if they were still married, despite the fact that their partner is deceased.

You can file taxes as a qualified widow(er) for the year your spouse died, as well as two years following their death. So, depending on the timing of when the spouse passed during the year, this time frame could technically be three calendar years. After that, you must opt for the status of either single filer or head of household.

Because it is a somewhat unusual status, there are specific rules and regulations about who qualifies. The following are eligibility rules set out by the IRS for the qualified widow(er) filing status:

  1. You were entitled to file a joint return with your spouse for the year your spouse died. It doesn't matter whether you actually filed a joint return.
  2. Your spouse died in the previous two years, and you didn't remarry before the end of the ensuing tax year. For example, if your spouse died in 2018 or 2019 and you were unmarried as of Dec. 31, 2020, you could file as a qualifying widow(er) for the tax year 2020.
  3. You have at least one child or stepchild (not a foster child) living with you whom you can claim as a dependent. Keep in mind that you don't actually have to claim them on your tax return, but they must technically qualify as one.
  4. You paid more than half the cost of keeping up a home for the year. Expenses for home upkeep, including groceries to rent or mortgage, homeowners insurance to property taxes, repairs, utilities, and other home maintenance fees.

As noted above, you get all the advantages of being married and filing jointly when you use the qualified widow(er) status—notably the deductions and income tax brackets. The standard deduction of $25,100 for 2021 ($25,900 for 2022) and the tax brackets are the same for qualifying widow(er) and married filing jointly filing statuses. Both are more favorable than those for the head of household and, of course, the single filing status.

Taxpayers who do not remarry in the year their spouse dies can file jointly with the deceased spouse for that tax year. After that, they can opt for Qualifying Widow(er) status.

Special Considerations

Having a dependent child is a key part of filing as a qualified widow or widower. In fact, it's actually a very crucial part of the tax filing status. There is often an addendum to the title that stipulates it, notably qualified widow(er) with dependent child.

The law also dictates that the dependent child must have lived in the home with the taxpayer all year, aside from temporary absences, like vacations or visiting relatives. There are exceptions if a child's presence is for less than a year, for things like birth, death, and even kidnapping.

In addition, the child cannot qualify if:

  • They had a gross income of $4,300 or more.
  • They filed a joint return.
  • You could be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return.
Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Filing Status," Page 8. Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Filing Status," Page 1. Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501, Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Page 9. Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022." Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Filing Status," Page 2. Accessed Dec. 21, 2021.

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