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Qualifying Widow, Widower Tax Filing Status

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To determine whether or not you qualify for the widow/widower status, start and e-file your Form 1040 Tax Return on eFile.com. The eFile app will help you select your filing status and your forms/schedules based on the information you provide. Otherwise, use this free STATucator to find your status now. Read on to learn more about the qualified widow or widower filing status.

Qualifying Widow (or Qualifying Widower) is a filing status that allows you to retain the benefits of the Married Filing Jointly status for two years after the year of your spouse's death. You must have a dependent child in order to file as a Qualifying Widow or Widower. In fact, the full name of this filing status is actually "Qualifying Widow(er) with a Dependent Child."

  • If you file as Qualifying Widow (or Widower) with Dependent Child, you will get the same tax benefits that you would get if you filed as Married Filing Jointly. The Qualifying Widow (or Widower) filing status entitles you to use the Married Filing Jointly tax rates and the highest standard deduction amount (if you do not itemize deductions).
  • If your spouse died during the tax year, you can still use Married Filing Jointly as your filing status for that year (as long as you otherwise qualify). For two years after that, you may be eligible for the Qualifying Widow (or Widower) with Dependent Child filing status.
  • If you have a dependent child, you have not remarried, and you meet certain other requirements (see below), you can file as Qualifying Widow (Widower) with Dependent Child for two years after the year of your spouse's death.

If a spouse died during 2020 and the surviving spouse did not remarry in 2020, or if a spouse died in 2021 before filing a 20200 tax return, the surviving spouse can file as married filing joint.  A joint return needs to show the 2020 income of the deceased spouse's 2020 prior to death, and all 2020 income of the surviving spouse.  When e-Filing indicate “Filing as surviving spouse."

Qualifying and Non Qualifying Widow(er)s

For the two years after the year of your spouse's death, you can use the Qualifying Widow(er) filing status if all 5 of the following statements are true:

  1. For the year in which your spouse died, you filed (or could have filed) a joint return with your spouse.
  2. You did not remarry (during the two years after the year of your spouse's death). For example, your spouse died in 2020 and you do not remarry before January 1, 2023.
  3. You have a child or stepchild (not a foster child) whom you are able claim as a dependent. Use this free DEPENDucator to see who qualifies as your dependent.
  4. The child lived with you in your home all year, except for temporary absences. There are exceptions for birth, death, or kidnapping (see below).
  5. You paid more than half the total cost of keeping up the home in which you and the child lived for the year. The total cost of keeping up a home includes food expenses, rent, mortgage interest, home insurance, real estate taxes, utilities, repairs, maintenance, and other household expenses.

If you remarried during the year, you cannot file as Qualifying Widow or Widower, nor can you file as Qualifying Widow or Widower if you do not have a dependent child for whom you kept up a home.

Below are various examples and special cases when you may qualify as a widow or widower:

  • Mary's husband died early in 2020 and she remarried in 2022. During 2020 and 2021, she kept up a home for herself and her 2-year old daughter. For 2020, Mary can file as Married Filing Jointly with her deceased husband. For 2021, she can file as Qualifying Widower with a Dependent Child and keep the tax benefits of the Married Filing Jointly status. For 2022, she can file as Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separately. If she had not remarried in 2022, she could have filed as Qualifying Widower with a Dependent Child. 
  • John's wife died in 2020 and he has not remarried. In 2021 and 2022, he kept up a home in which he lived with his 10-year old stepson. For 2020, he can file as Married Filing Jointly. For 2021 and 2022, he can file as Qualifying Widower with a Dependent Child. For 2023, he can file as Head of Household if he qualifies. If John remarries on December 31, 2021, then he cannot file as Qualifying Widower with a Dependent Child. If he did not have a dependent child, he could not file as Qualifying Widower with a Dependent Child. 

Filing Status After Qualifying Widow(er)

You can only file as a Qualifying Widow or Widower for the two years after the year in which your spouse died. For example: If your spouse died in 2020, you may only qualify as a Qualifying Widow or Widower for 2021 and 2022 as long as you meet the other requirements. After the two-year period has ended, you may no longer file as Qualifying Widow or Widower. If you remarry at this point, you can then file as Married Filing Jointly or as Married Filing Separately. If you do not remarry in the third year after your spouse's death, you are considered single. You will need to use the Single filing status unless you qualify to file as Head of Household.

    Special Cases for Being a Qualifying Widow(er)

    • Temporary Absences: You are still considered to have lived together with your child in your home if either one of you is away for a temporary absence. This includes temporarily living away from home for school, business, military service, medical treatment, or vacation, with an expectation to return home after the absence. You must keep up the home during the absence.
    • Birth or Death of a Child: You can still file as Qualifying Widow (Widower) if the child who qualifies you was born or died during the year, as long as you paid more than half of the cost of keeping up the home that the child lived in during the entire part of the year they were alive.
    • Kidnapped Child: If your dependent child was kidnapped, you can still file as Qualifying Widow(er) if all 3 of the following statements are true:
      1. The child is presumed by law enforcement to have been kidnapped by someone who is not a family member (yours or the child's),
      2. In the year that the kidnapping took place, the child lived with you for more than half of the part of the year before they were kidnapped,
      3. You would have been able to file as Qualifying Widow(er) if the child had not been kidnapped.

    How to File As a Qualifying Widow (Widower) with Dependent Child

    You can claim the Qualifying Widow (Widower) filing status when you prepare and e-file your Form 1040 Tax Return on eFile.com. Choosing your filing status is one of the first things you do when you start preparing your tax return online. We will then apply the correct filing status before applying the correct tax rates and standard deduction amount.

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