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Can I file a person taxes if they passed away?

jannett90044
Level 4

I have a client who states she was separated from her husband for 15 years. She never divorced and now wants to file his return since she has all his w2s etc. She has the death certificate. She has not filed MFJ in the past. How will I go about this situation? Sounds a little messy to me. 

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9 Replies 9
IRonMaN
Level 15

"Sounds a little messy to me"

It's been a long tax season.  Personally, right about now I try to avoid messy as much as I try to avoid COVID.

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BobKamman
Level 14

How long have you known her?  Has she been filing MFS during that time?  Who is the "informant" on the death certificate?  Have you checked for an obituary that would show children or other relatives?  Are the county probate court records online so you can find out if a personal representative has been appointed?  

jannett90044
Level 4

This client will be her first time doing business. The details haven't been discussed as of yet since I have a phone appointment with her today. I wanted to be ready. She was referred by another client who is known for about 5 years. 

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qbteachmt
Level 15

Anyone can have a copy of a death certificate; that doesn't make her a special representative or even his executor. And why would she have "all his w2s etc?" well, it seems likely someone would have had to give that to her, so someone has been wrapping up his household? Is that someone authorizing her to handle having the taxes filed? Ask her who is authorized to sign the return, and have her prove that person is authorized. Remember your due diligence.

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BobKamman
Level 14

Montana plays loosie-goosey with selling death certificates, but in many states they are denied to non-relatives (which may not be the case here, although how do we know they were still married, if ever?).  On the other hand, in Arizona you can be appointed personal representative with just an affidavit; a death certificate isn't required.  

I would listen to her story and if I were looking for new clients (I'm not) and it sounded reasonable, give her an estimate and ask for a retainer.  I have had several clients who have stayed married even while living apart for many years, sometimes with a new domestic partner.  They do it to remain eligible for insurance and/or pension benefits, among other reasons.  Occasionally it's religious.  But I have known them when they were still filing joint returns, or I have known their close family members.  

Trust, but verify.  

qbteachmt
Level 15

"Montana plays loosie-goosey with selling death certificates"

I don't know why you assumed that State. Most of the deaths I have dealt with were in CA. I would recommend you get at least 4, because you end up sending them in or leaving them as proof for agencies and banks to have on file, or mail in for closing accounts or canceling services.

"On the other hand, in Arizona you can be appointed personal representative with just an affidavit; a death certificate isn't required."

Which makes my point, that having a death certificate does not mean that person is handling the estate and has the right to have anyone take any action, including tax filing, on behalf of the deceased. A death certificate is not proof of authority. It's proof of the death.

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BobKamman
Level 14

California law defines individuals who can obtain an authorized copy of a birth, death, and marriage certificate as:

  • The registrant or a parent, legal guardian, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner of the registrant.
  • A party entitled to receive the record as a result of court order or an attorney or licensed adoption agency seeking the birth record in order to comply with the requirements of Section 3140 or 7603 of the Family Code. (Please include a copy of the court order.)
  • A member of a law enforcement agency or a representative of another governmental agency, as provided by law, who is conducting official business. (Companies representing a government agency must provide authorization from the government agency.
  • Any person or agency empowered by statute or appointed by a court to act on behalf of the registrant or the registrant's estate (Include a copy of the power of attorney or documentation identifying you as executor.)
  • An attorney representing the registrant or the registrant's estate.
  • Any agent or employee of a funeral establishment who acts within the course and scope of employment and on behalf of persons specified in HSC § 7100 (a) (1)-(8).
  • Surviving next of kin (As specified in HSC § 7100).
qbteachmt
Level 15

Bob, you seem to be overthinking this. I never stated that any person could get it from the County or State. I pointed out anyone can get one and never stated Officially Get It. Tell you what: I will edit my previous post to change it to "anyone can have a copy."

For instance, a family member gets them officially, and one of the family members has the family bible and asks to have a copy for the family records. And you leave one at the funeral home, you leave one at the bank, you leave one with the landlord. Whatever. Now you have four scattered around town, and someone picks it up and tries to use it for some other reason = not proof of authorization.

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jannett90044
Level 4

Thank you for everyone's response. The client did not have enough documentation to support that she is the one taking care of her spouse's legal matters. She could not provide me accurate answers. All this information was very helpful in order to decide.