Widow Tax Filing Status: What You Need to Know

South Dakota has the highest average tax payment in the United States at nearly $8,500. No matter what occupation you have, paying taxes is something you simply can’t avoid. Things can become a bit more complicated after the death of a spouse, however.

Determining your tax filing status can be overwhelming in this scenario, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s explore the key information you should know about how to manage the widow tax filing status.

Married Filing Jointly

After your spouse passes away, you still have the opportunity to file jointly for the first year after their death. Although it might seem morbid, it could potentially help you save a significant amount of money on your taxes. This option is unavailable to those who remarry within the first year of their spouse’s death.

If you choose this option, you may need to speak with a tax professional about the required documentation. Since you’ll be filing jointly, you might need access to the deceased’s tax information.


For those that remarry within the first year, you can file jointly with your new spouse. It’s also possible for both new spouses to file separately.

This option is required if a return is necessary for the deceased spouse. If the surviving spouse has no gross income, they can be claimed as an exemption on the deceased spouse’s separate return and the new spouse’s separate return.

To elaborate, let’s consider a woman named Jane who was married to a man named David until he recently passed away. Six months later, she married a man named Andrew. If Jane had no gross income during this time, she could be claimed as an exemption on David’s separate return and Andrew’s separate return.

It’s worth noting that you can claim an exemption on only a joint return if you file jointly. So, consider your options carefully before moving forward.

Filing as Single

Unless you remarried or chose to file jointly with the deceased, you’ll likely file as single. Not everyone is a qualifying widow after the death of the spouse. For example, if you have a foster child, you might not achieve qualifying widow status.

However, you can still use head of household status in this scenario. A tax professional can help get you started on the right track.

Qualifying Widow

Qualifying widows can use this status for two tax years after the death of their spouse. However, they can’t use it during the year of their spouse’s death. You must have qualified for filing jointly with your spouse before they passed away.

You also cannot have remarried before the end of the tax year in which your spouse passed away. You must have a child, adopted child, or stepchild that you claim as a dependent.

This does not apply to foster children. Qualifying individuals must have paid more than half of the maintenance costs for their homes. It must also be the main home for dependents throughout the entire year.

Temporary absences are exceptions. For example, Jane could have a daughter who spends three months of the year out-of-state with her grandparents. Her home with her mother Jane is still her primary residence.

A child cannot qualify as a dependent if they filed a joint return. They also cannot qualify if you yourself can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return. So, Jane could not claim her daughter as a dependent if Jane could be claimed on her own mother’s tax return as a dependent.

Widow Tax Filing Status Considerations

There are special cases related to qualifying as a surviving widow. If a child was born or passed away within a tax year, you can qualify as a widow as long as you still paid for more than half of your home’s maintenance costs. If your child was kidnapped, you could also still qualify.

However, there are certain restrictions in this scenario. Primarily, the child must be presumed by law enforcement to have been kidnapped by someone unrelated to your family. This includes both your family and the child’s family.

In the year the kidnapping occurred, the child must have lived with you for more than half of the segment of the year before they were kidnapped. Those in this situation must also have been able to file as a qualifying widow even if the child had not been kidnapped.

Getting Started

Dealing with this situation can be emotionally draining and difficult to navigate. Hiring a tax professional is one of the best steps you can take. When searching for someone to work with, consider their past reputation.

Look at what previous clients have had to say so you can gain insight into what you can expect. You should also consider their pricing structure.

You often get what you pay for, but this doesn’t mean you have to choose the most expensive option. If you’re having trouble finding someone, ask friends or family if they know a reputable financial professional. This will help streamline the process.

Take the Right Steps

It’s no secret that handling taxes is often stressful and expensive. However, it’s best to avoid creating additional problems for yourself by properly managing the widow tax filing status.

This will help ensure that everything goes as smoothly as it should. Our blog has many other finance articles that can benefit you in the future. Check them out today to see what you can learn!

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