What is a Qualifying Widow or Widower?

A qualifying widow or widower is a person who can still file as married filing jointly for tax purposes.

How Does a Qualifying Widow or Widower Work?

Let's say John and Jane Doe have been married for 40 years. John is diagnosed with terminal cancer and dies a year later. When John dies, Jane legally ceases to be married and from a tax perspective becomes a single taxpayer. However, the IRS allows her to apply the tax rates as if she were married filing jointly for the next two tax years because she is a qualifying widow. However, Jane cannot continue to claim an exemption for John.

Jane also has to be a mother supporting a dependent child in her home in order to qualify. If she remarries before the two-year period ends, she loses her status as a qualifying widow.

Why Does a Qualifying Widow or Widower Matter?

Persons who experience the loss of a spouse can still claim the same standard deduction as a married couple filing jointly, which often reduces tax liability and gives the taxpayer time to manage the financial effects of losing a spouse. Note that a qualifying widow or widower cannot use IRS Form 1040EZ.