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A widow's filing status options


Dear Tax Talk,
My husband died in 2003 and I filed jointly for 2003. For 2004, I will file as a qualifying widow. What I need to know is, do I have to fill out a new W-4 and file as "single" starting in 2005? I don't feel that being a widow is "single," but I need to know because I want to do the right thing. It also concerns me because that will be like a cut in pay for me. -- Sandra

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Dear Sandra,
You don't often hear about qualifying widow or widower status as a filing option because it applies only in limited circumstances.

A qualifying widow is eligible to use the tax rates that apply to a married couple as opposed to single or head of household rates. Since the married rates are lower than the two other categories, this would be a benefit for a family where there's only one breadwinner.

If your spouse passes away during the year, you're considered married for the entire year and you can use the tax rates applicable to married couples and claim an exemption for your deceased spouse. If your spouse died before signing the return, the executor or administrator must sign the return for your spouse. If neither you nor anyone else has yet been appointed as executor or administrator, you can sign the return for your spouse and print "Filing as surviving spouse" in the area where you sign the return.

You can file as a qualifying widow (or widower) for up to two tax years following the year of your spouse's death if you can claim a child as a dependent and you pay for more than half the cost of maintaining a home for you and the child or children. Hence, you would only file as a qualifying widow in 2004 and 2005 if you have a dependent child. If so, you could continue to claim married on your Form W-4. Otherwise, you should change your Form W-4 to single. If you still have a dependent child after the two-year period, then you would switch to head of household filing status.

-- Posted: Nov. 17, 2004




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