Federal income tax returns must typically be filed no later than April 15th following the end of the calendar year in which the decedent died. However, federal income tax returns for the year 2016 are not due until April 18, 2017, due to the observance of certain holidays in 2017.Also, if the deceased person had not filed income tax returns for the previous tax year at the time of death, such returns are due on the same date as originally due. For example, if the deceased died on January 5, 2017 and had not yet filed tax returns for 2016, the decedentís 2016 income tax returns are due on April 18, 2017 and the decedentís 2017 income tax returns will be due on April 15, 2018. If the decedent had a different income tax filing schedule, the due date for the return may be different.
The due date for federal fiduciary income tax returns depends on whether the estate has elected a calendar year or fiscal year. The federal fiduciary income tax return is typically due by the 15th day of the 4th month following the end of the estateís taxable year.Federal estate tax returns are due no later than 9 months after the deceased personís date of death. Refer to IRS Form 706.For help in determining when tax returns are due for a deceased individual in a particular year, read the IRS Instructions for Form 1041 and Schedules A, B, G, J, and K-1.Federal gift tax returns are due on the earliest of the following dates: the due date of the decedentís federal estate tax return, or April 15th following the year of decedentís death, subject to any extensions. If no federal estate tax return is required for the decedentís estate, the federal gift tax return due date is April 15th following the year of the decedentís death.
The due dates for state tax returns vary by state. Consult a tax professional or the state department of revenueís website for information about due dates for state tax returns for the decedent and the decedentís estate.
If you will be unable to file the required tax return by the due date, you must file for an extension. Even if you file for an extension, all taxes owed are still due and payable on the original due date. Interest will apply to tax amounts unpaid by the original due date, irrespective of receiving an extension. Penalties for late payment or failure to file may also apply.
Who is Responsible for Filing Decedentís Tax Returns?
The executor of the deceased personís estate is responsible for filing all tax returns that are due for the decedent and the estate, including all income, estate, and gift tax returns. See
Information for Executors. The person serving in the role of executor is also sometimes referred to as the personal representative or administrator.If no executor, personal representative or administrator is appointed to administer the estate for any reason and the decedent has a surviving spouse, that spouse is typically responsible for filing the tax returns for the decedent and the estate. If the deceased person does not have a surviving spouse and an executor is not appointed to administer the estate, then a friend or relative who assumes responsibility for administering the estate and handling the decedentís affairs is responsible for filing the required tax returns. Refer to our free
executor checklist for more about estate administration duties.
Liability for Unpaid Taxes
If an executor, surviving spouse or other person settling the deceased personís estate distributes property to the heirs or beneficiaries without paying all federal, state, and local taxes, he or she can be held personally liable for unpaid taxes. The heirs or beneficiaries who receive a distribution from the estate can also be held liable for taxes owed by the estate, up to the value of property received. The U.S. Government has a tax lien on all estate and trust property for unpaid taxes. If you are responsible for settling a deceased person's estate, get a guidebook on our
Estate Tax Books page and consult an attorney.
Gift Tax Returns
Depending on the amount of gifts made by the decedent, a federal gift tax return may be due. See IRS Form 709 available from the IRS. Some states also impose gift taxes.
What Types of Tax Returns Are Required When a Person Dies?
The following types of federal and state tax returns may be required for the decedent or the decedentís estate:
Income Tax Return
Fiduciary Income Tax Return
Estate Tax Return
Gift Tax Return
If the deceased person owned a business or an interest in a business, other types of federal, state, and local tax returns may also be required. Whether a particular type of federal or state tax return is required depends on a variety of factors. For example, if the decedent's income was lower than the threshold amount for which an income tax return is required, an income tax return may not be due.Also, the majority of states do not currently impose estate taxes or gift taxes. See
inheritance taxes. Consult a CPA or estate planning lawyer for assistance with tax returns on behalf of the decedent and the decedent's estate.
Income Tax Returns for the Decedent
Final income tax returns must be prepared and filed for the decedent by the filing deadline. The final federal income tax return is filed using the 1040 form series. 2016 and 2017 income tax returns can be filed using tax preparation software or free online forms.If the deceased person was married and filed joint returns with his or her spouse, a joint tax return may be filed for the tax year in which decedent died, unless the surviving spouse remarried prior to the end of the year of decedentís death. If the deceased person paid income tax during the year of death, such as through payroll tax deductions, quarterly tax payments, IRA withholding, etc., a tax return should be filed to claim any tax refund that may be due. If the decedent did not file tax returns for prior years that were required to be filed, the executor is responsible to file income tax returns for those tax years as well.
Fiduciary Income Tax Returns for the Deceased Personís Estate
A fiduciary income tax return, also known as an estate income tax return, may need to be filed if the estate earns income during the period from the decedentís death until the date the estate is settled or closed. Types of income the estate may earn include interest, dividends, rents, and gains from the sale of property. Federal fiduciary income tax returns are filed using the 1041 form series. Note: An estate income tax return is not the same as an estate tax return.A fiduciary income tax return is not filed under the deceased personís social security number. It is filed under the estateís own federal taxpayer identification number, which is called an EIN. The executor should obtain an EIN for the estate promptly after appointment as executor using IRS Form SS-4. The executor must give the estateís taxpayer identification number to all banks, brokerage firms, and other financial institutions where estate assets are held and to any other entities or individuals that may pay interest, dividends or other income to the estate.The executor must also make an election to use either a fiscal year or calendar year for the estateís income taxes. The election of a fiscal year is an important matter that can affect the amount of the estateís tax liability. There are several elections to be made when filing taxes for a deceased personís estate and these should never be made without professional advice from a CPA or estate planning attorney. See finding an attorney.The executor is responsible for filing a Schedule K-1 for each beneficiary of the estate with the Form 1041 and for giving a copy of the Schedule K-1 to the beneficiary. To the extent income is distributed to beneficiaries of the estate, each beneficiary is responsible for reporting such income on his individual income tax return. If income is not distributed to beneficiaries during a tax year and stays in the estate, the income should be reported by the estate as estate income.
Notify the IRS If You Are Acting as a Fiduciary
Upon commencing administration of the decedentís estate, the executor should notify the IRS that he or she is representing the estate in all tax matters by filing IRS Form 56 Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship. The IRS requires this form to be filed to notify the government you are acting in a fiduciary capacity. If you will also be filing the decedentís final income tax returns, file a separate Form 56 notifying the IRS of that fiduciary relationship. For an overview of the role of executors, go to
Estate Tax Returns
Depending on the value of the deceased personís estate, a federal estate tax return may be due. A state estate tax return may also be required if the state in which decedentís property is located has a state estate tax. Unlike fiduciary income tax returns which are based on the income of the estate, an estate tax return is based on the value of the deceased personís taxable estate. See
Estate Tax Information. Federal estate tax returns are filed on IRS Form 706.
Note: This page provides a brief overview of the types of tax filings that may be required for a deceased person and his or her estate. This page is not a comprehensive guide to filing such returns. If you are responsible for filing tax returns for a deceased person or an estate, obtain professional advice from a CPA or an estate planning attorney about your unique circumstances and applicable federal and state law. Interest and penalties are assessed for failure to pay taxes on time and file the correct paperwork. Special rules apply if the estate has a beneficiary who is a non-resident alien. If the decedent had a living trust or any other type of trust, consult a CPA or estate planning attorney for assistance.
This article was updated on March 15, 2017.