Filing for the incapacitated

2 min read

Dear Tax Talk,
My husband is in a nursing home with dementia. I have a durable power of attorney for his affairs. Can I continue to file a joint tax return with him? Do I just sign his name?
— Wendy

Dear Wendy,
You can choose married filing jointly as your filing status if you are married and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. Your husband can’t really agree due to his condition. However a power of attorney gives you authority to act on his behalf in making decisions. Since filing a separate tax return will generally result in a higher tax bill for both of you, you would exercise your authority in decision making and file a joint tax return.

The instructions for Form 1040 state the following:

If your spouse cannot sign because of injury or disease and tells you to sign, you can sign your spouse’s name in the proper space on the return followed by the words “By (your name), Husband (or Wife).” Be sure to also sign in the space provided for your signature. Attach a dated statement, signed by you, to the return. The statement should include the form number of the return you are filing, the tax year, the reason your spouse cannot sign, and that your spouse has agreed to your signing for him or her.

Again, since your spouse can’t agree to file jointly, I believe you should follow the preceding instructions on signatures and also attach the power of attorney to your return. You should indicate that your husband cannot sign due to his dementia.

On a joint return, you report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses. You can file a joint return even if one of you had no income or deductions.

Remember that most nursing home care is considered a medical expense that can be deducted as an itemized deduction on Schedule A.

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