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DEATH OF A TAXPAYER

Upon the death of a taxpayer, a personal representative (e.g., estate executor/executrix) takes charge of the decedent's property. This person may be named in the decedent's will or appointed by the court if there is no will. The duties of the representative include collecting all of the decedent's property, paying creditors, and distributing assets to the heirs. In addition, the representative is responsible for filing various tax returns and seeing that the taxes owed are properly paid. This section will provide an overview of some the commonly encountered issues to be resolved upon the death of a taxpayer. 

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Federal Estate Tax Retroactively Reinstated
The Bush era tax cuts slowly phased out the federal estate tax and abolished it altogether for decedents dying in 2010, and replaced it with a rather complicated modified carryover basis regime.  Just about everyone assumed Congress would reinstate the estate tax for 2010.  As the year wore on, opinions began to change to where just about everyone predicted Congress would not reinstate the estate tax for 2010.  Then out of the blue, mixed in with the GOP/Obama Administration compromise agreement tax provisions, was a proposal to retroactively reinstate the estate tax with a $5 million per person exemption and a tax rate of 35%.

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Did the Decedent Own Capital Assets?
If the decedent owned capital assets, the fair market value (FMV) of those assets at the time of death must be determined for estate and probate purposes and for determining the basis of the assets in the hands of the beneficiary.

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Is a Fiduciary Return Required?
Generally, income attributable to a decedent up to the time of death is included in the decedent's final individual tax return. Upon death, income that would have been attributable to the decedent is now income to the decedent's estate and reported on the estate's income tax return.

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Final Return of the Decedent
Generally, the same filing requirements apply to a deceased taxpayer as would otherwise be used if the taxpayer were still living, based on income level, age, and filing status. CAUTION: A fiduciary return reporting the income earned on the decedent’s assets after the date of death and until the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries may also be required. In many cases, a fiduciary return may need to be filed for more than one year.

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Returns That Need To Be Filed
The following are the basic returns that may need to be filed following a taxpayer's death, dependent on the filing requirements of each.

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Was Decedent Receiving Social Security Benefits?
If the answer to that question is "yes," a family member or other person responsible for the beneficiary's affairs should do the following.

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Surviving Spouse Remarries in Same Year
If a deceased taxpayer was married at the time of death, the executor of the estate of the deceased taxpayer will have two filing options for the decedent.

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