Topic 356 - Decedents

A personal representative of an estate is an executor (executrix), administrator (administratrix) or anyone who is in charge of the decedent's property. The personal representative is responsible for filing any final individual income tax return(s) and the estate tax return of the decedent when due. Please refer to Publication 559, Survivors, Executors, and Administrators, for additional information on personal representative responsibilities.

The filing requirements that apply to individuals will determine if a final individual income tax return is required for the decedent. Refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals, for additional information.

Whether income must be included or deductions may be taken on the final return is determined by the method of accounting used by the decedent at the time of death. Most individuals use the cash receipts and disbursements method. Under this method, the final return should show only the items of income the decedent actually received, that were credited to his or her account, or that were made available to him or her without restriction before death. Generally, expenses paid by the decedent before death should be deducted on the final return. If the decedent used an accrual method, refer to Publication 559, Survivors, Executors, and Administrators, and Publication 538, Accounting Periods and Methods, for further information.

Write the word "DECEASED," the decedent's name, and the date of death across the top of the tax return. If filing a joint return, write the name and address of the decedent and the surviving spouse in the name and address fields. If a joint return is not being filed, write the decedent's name in the name field and the personal representative's name and address in the address field. If the decedent is due a refund, it may be necessary to file Form 1310 (PDF), Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer, with the return. If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return, or a court appointed or certified personal representative filing an original return for the decedent, you do not have to file Form 1310. Court appointed or certified personal representatives must attach to the return a copy of the court certificate showing the appointment.

If a personal representative has been appointed, that person must sign the return. If it is a joint return, the surviving spouse also must sign it. If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return and no personal representative has been appointed you should sign the return and write in the signature area "Filing as surviving spouse." A surviving spouse can file joint returns for the taxable year in which the death occurred and, if the death occurred before the date that the decedent's return for the immediately preceding year was due, for the taxable year immediately before the year of death. If no personal representative has been appointed and there is no surviving spouse, the person in charge of the decedent's property must file and sign the return as "personal representative."

Please refer to the Form 1041 Instructions (PDF) to determine if a Form 1041 (PDF), U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts, is required to be filed.

You may have to file Form 706 (PDF), United States Estate (and Generation Skipping Transfer) Tax Return. Please refer to the Form 706 Instructions (PDF) to determine if a Form 706 is required to be filed.

More Tax Topic Categories

Page Last Reviewed or Updated: December 12, 2013