Topic 356 - Decedents

The personal representative of an estate is an executor (executrix), administrator (administratrix) or anyone else 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. For more information on personal representative responsibilities, refer to Publication 559, Survivors, Executors, and Administrators.

The filing requirements that apply to individuals will determine if the personal representative must prepare a final individual income tax return for the decedent. Refer to Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax for Individuals, for more information.

The method of accounting used by the decedent at the time of death determines the income to include and the deductions to take on the final return. 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, the final return can claim deductions for expenses the decedent paid before death. If the decedent used an accrual method, refer to Publication 559, and Publication 538, Accounting Periods and Methods, for more 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 not filing a joint return, write the decedent's name in the name field and the personal representative's name and address in the address field. If a refund is due to the decedent, 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 court-certified personal representative filing an original return for the decedent, you do not have to file Form 1310. Court-appointed or court-certified personal representatives must attach to the return a copy of the court document showing the appointment.

  • If there is an appointed personal representative, he or she must sign the return. If it is a joint return, the surviving spouse must also sign it.
  • If you are a surviving spouse filing a joint return and there is no appointed personal representative, 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 filing the return, for the taxable year immediately before the year of death.
  • If there is no appointed personal representative and there is no surviving spouse, the person in charge of the decedent's property must file and sign the return as "personal representative."

Refer to the Form 1041 Instructions (PDF) to determine if the law requires filing of Form 1041 (PDF), U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts.

Refer to the Form 706 Instructions (PDF) to determine if the decedent’s estate must file Form 706 (PDF), United States Estate (and Generation Skipping Transfer) Tax Return.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: April 24, 2015