Topic no. 356, Decedents

The personal representative of an estate is an executor, administrator, 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. You may need to file Form 56, Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship to notify the IRS of the existence of a fiduciary relationship. A fiduciary (trustee, executor, administrator, receiver or guardian) stands in the position of a taxpayer and acts as the taxpayer. For more information on personal representative responsibilities, refer to Publication 559, Survivors, Executors, and Administrators.

Filing requirements

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) and How do I file a deceased person's tax return? for more information.

Income to include

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 individual return should show only the items of income the decedent actually or constructively received, that were credited to the decedent’s account, or that were made available to the decedent without restriction before death. Generally, the final individual 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.

Filing information

When filing electronically, follow the specific directions provided by the software for proper signature and notation requirements. Otherwise, write the word "Deceased," the decedent's name, and the date of death across the top of the final individual 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, Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer with the return. If you're a surviving spouse filing a joint return, or a court-appointed or court-certified personal representative filing an original return for the decedent, you don't 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's an appointed personal representative, that person must sign the return. If it's a joint return, the surviving spouse must also sign it.
  • If you're a surviving spouse filing a joint return and there's 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's no appointed personal representative and there's no surviving spouse, the person in charge of the decedent's property must file and sign the return as "personal representative."

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

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