What Happens If a Deceased Person Owes Taxes?

Understanding the implications of a deceased person who owes taxes to the government is important for family members or appointed executors entrusted with estate management. Failure to file taxes for a deceased individual can prompt legal action from the IRS. Read on to know more!
What Happens If a Deceased Person Owes Taxes?
What Happens If a Deceased Person Owes Taxes?
Following a person's death, any outstanding taxes often become the responsibility of their estate. Let's understand what happens if a deceased person owes taxes to the government!
In this article

Managing the tax affairs of a deceased individual poses both complexity and emotional challenges. It’s important to recognize that upon someone’s passing, their tax obligations persist.

So, what happens if a deceased person owes taxes? It is crucial to understand the implications of a deceased person owing taxes to the government on family members or appointed executors entrusted with estate management.

Also, check out Beem to file your federal and state taxes at the best prices across all filing statuses.

What Happens If a Deceased Person Owes Taxes?

Following a person’s death, any outstanding taxes often become the responsibility of their estate. The executor or administrator of the estate assumes the role of settling these tax liabilities using the deceased individual’s assets.

These tax obligations encompass diverse dues, such as income taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, or any outstanding amounts owed to governmental entities. This guide aims to shed light on various aspects of this intricate matter.

How to File Taxes for a Deceased Person

Filing taxes for a deceased person requires critical documents such as Form 1040, 1040-SR, and additional essential forms. Verifying their non-filing status involves submitting Form 4506-T to the IRS.

Should the deceased possess assets over $600 with pending taxes, the executor must settle these dues before estate distribution.

This meticulous process ensures proper closure of the deceased individual’s tax obligations, emphasizing the need for careful documentation and adherence to IRS protocols to handle their tax affairs appropriately.

Does a Deceased Person Have to File Taxes?

Yes, a deceased person is still required to file a final tax return, especially if they have a history of regular tax filing. Understanding their tax obligations is crucial despite the sensitive nature of addressing taxes after a loved one’s passing.

The IRS retains the right to pursue payment of these taxes from the deceased person’s spouse or next of kin. Moreover, tax filing for the deceased often forms a fundamental aspect of comprehensive estate planning.

This broader plan encompasses managing, protecting, and allocating all assets, earnings, and liabilities within an estate.

It involves determining asset distribution, creating a will, and devising strategies to settle outstanding debts, culminating in a thoughtful approach to safeguarding one’s legacy for the designated beneficiaries.

What Happens if You Don’t File Taxes for a Deceased Individual?

Failure to file taxes for a deceased individual can prompt legal action from the IRS, leading to the placement of a federal lien on the estate. This lien mandates settling federal taxes before addressing any other financial obligations or accounts associated with the deceased.

However, funeral expenses and administrative fees take precedence over unpaid taxes. Despite this, if taxes were owed by the deceased over multiple years, demonstrating ignorance of these outstanding amounts might be possible when working with the IRS.

This often necessitates the involvement of a tax planning attorney or a certified public accountant (CPA) to navigate the complexities of this situation.

Is There a Penalty for Filing a Late Tax Return for a Deceased Person?

In IRS penalties, late filing for a deceased person constitutes a unique exception. The tax return for the deceased is typically exempt from failure-to-file and failure-to-pay penalties.

However, informing the IRS about the individual’s passing remains essential. If there’s a realization that the deceased hadn’t filed or paid taxes in recent years, it’s advisable to communicate this to the IRS, possibly seeking legal or CPA guidance.

The IRS aims to ascertain your awareness of any unfiled taxes. For spouses filing jointly, the responsibility to settle all dues with the IRS falls on the surviving spouse. Filing taxes for a deceased person also serves the purpose of notifying the IRS about the taxpayer’s demise.

Do I Need to Save the Deceased’s Tax Documentation?

Retaining the deceased individual’s tax documentation is crucial due to the IRS’s authority to audit their returns for up to six years after filing.

Preserving these records is vital to address any potential financial or legal issues during this period. Documents such as W-2s, 1099s, and evidence of income should be retained.

Additionally, the IRS may request verification for various expenses, including medical costs, charitable donations, property taxes, and contributions to retirement plans.

Keeping these records for at least seven years is advisable before considering shredding or disposing of them. However, even after this period, seeking advice from a tax specialist is recommended before discarding these materials to ensure compliance and safety.

Who Is Responsible for Paying a Deceased Person’s Taxes?

  • The Estate Executor: This person, named in the will, usually pays taxes from the estate’s assets.
  • Legal Representative: An attorney can help with tax complexities.
  • Surviving Spouse: Responsible if filing jointly for the year of death.

The responsibility for settling taxes on behalf of a deceased individual typically lies with the designated person outlined in the estate plan.

This individual oversees the estate’s settlement, accessing necessary information and accounts to address outstanding taxes and manage potential refunds.

There are diverse approaches to handling this responsibility:

The Estate Administrator assumes responsibility for managing outstanding costs, closing relevant accounts, and distributing inheritances per the estate plan, thus possibly taking charge of tax payments.

An Appointed Legal Representative, such as a family or estate planning attorney, may manage the deceased’s tax matters, possessing access to financial details to expedite tax resolution.

In cases where the deceased was married and filed jointly, the surviving spouse might assume tax responsibilities, mainly if the death occurred before filing for that year. Joint tax filing for the year of death and possibly the prior year could be necessary, requiring inclusion in the surviving spouse’s tax filing.

Without an estate plan, a spouse, or an appointed legal representative, the obligation often falls on a loved one or the next of kin to handle the deceased person’s tax affairs.

Tax Refund Check for the Deceased Person

After filing the tax return for the deceased individual, determining if any refunds are due from the IRS is essential. Claiming the refund involves submitting Form 1310, the Statement of a Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer.

This form allows individuals handling the deceased person’s estate to claim any remaining refunds owed by the IRS. Completing and submitting Form 1310 enables the designated representative or executor to process and receive the refund due to the deceased taxpayer.

Are Beneficiaries Liable for the Deceased’s Debts?

Beneficiaries of a deceased individual are legally shielded from assuming responsibility for the debts left behind.

According to the law, creditors cannot hold beneficiaries accountable for these debts. Moreover, specific assets that bypass the probate process—such as eligible retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, and funds placed in certain types of trusts—are exempt from being utilized to settle the debts left by the deceased.

These assets are directed directly to the beneficiaries and are safeguarded from being used to pay the decedent’s outstanding debts as per legal provisions.


So, what happens if a deceased person owes taxes? The IRS can hold the estate, the executor, or the surviving spouse responsible for the taxes of a deceased person.

Further, the IRS can seek collection action like levying bank accounts or placing liens on property. It is advised to work with a tax professional to protect relevant assets.

Also, ensure to take advantage of all possible deductions and credits to reduce your tax debt. Use Beem to file your taxes and get a refund higher than any other tax return preparation provider.

Navigating taxes for a deceased person can be challenging. This guide is a starting point, but it’s wise to seek professional advice for complex cases

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Prem Kishan

A seasoned Product Manager who thrives on making a meaningful impact within the organization, Prem is deeply passionate about tackling intricate problems using cutting-edge technology and is a specialist in tax content.


This page is purely informational. Beem does not provide financial, legal or accounting advice. This article has been prepared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide financial, legal or accounting advice and should not be relied on for the same. Please consult your own financial, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transactions.

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