What Is a Qualifying Widow/Widower

The federal qualifying widow or widower tax filing status is available for two-years for widows and widowers with dependents after their spouse's death. While the surviving spouse cannot continue to claim an exemption for the deceased spouse, they may claim the standard deduction for a married couple filing jointly. 

Understanding Qualifying Widow/Widower

The qualifying widow or widower tax filing status is not available in the year of the spouse's death. To qualify, the spouse must have qualified for the married filing jointly status in the year of the spouse's death. Additional IRS requirements include:

  • The taxpayer may not remarry.
  • A qualifying taxpayer must claim a qualifying dependent. Qualifying dependents are the spouse's children, step-children, or adopted children. The IRS does not allow foster children to qualify. 
  • The qualifying dependent must live in the qualifying widow or widower's home for the full year. Temporary absences due to vacation, education, medical treatment, military service, or business activities are acceptable. 
  • The surviving spouse has paid over one-half the costs associated with maintaining the home. Expenses include the mortgage or rent payments, property taxes, utilities, and groceries. 

Advantages of Qualifying Widow/Widower

An individual may pay less in federal income taxes when filing as a qualifying widow or widower. Lower taxes is especially helpful when the surviving spouse is paying funeral costs, final expenses, and general expenses associated with maintaining a home and rearing children. For a limited period, the widow or widower may take advantage of the standard deduction and tax brackets equaling those of a married couple filing jointly. 

In addition, if the qualifying dependent is born or dies during the year, a taxpayer may still file under the qualified widow or widower status. Again, they must have paid more than one-half the costs of maintaining the home during the child's life, or before the child's birth. Also, the child must have lived with the qualifying taxpayer during the year.