Qualifying Widow/Widower with Dependent Child Filing Status

Surviving spouses receive same tax benefits as married taxpayers

Portrait of a mother and child on the beach
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For those who have suffered the loss of a spouse, there is a special filing status designed to ease the financial burden of the grieving family. 

For the year that the spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may choose to file either jointly with his or her deceased spouse or file a separate return. In the two subsequent years, the surviving spouse may be able to use the Qualifying Widow/Widower With Dependent Child filing status if they are also maintaining a household for a son or daughter.

The Advantages of Qualifying Widow/Widower With Dependent Child Filing Status

There are two chief benefits of Qualifying Widow/Widower status.

  1. The standard deduction amount is the same as for married couples filing jointly.
  2. The tax brackets are exactly the same as for married couples filing jointly.


This provides widows and widowers who qualify with a two-year period to transition from their status as joint filers to their new status as an unmarried person.

The table below shows the tax rates that apply to Qualifying Widows and Widowers for the year 2017.

2017 Ordinary Tax Rates for Qualifying Widow or Widower Filing Status
[Tax Rate Schedule Y-1, Internal Revenue Code section 1(a)]

If taxable income isabcdefg
overbut not overTaxable incomeMinusSubtract (b) from (a)Multiplication amountMultiply (c) by (d)Additional AmountAdd (e) and (f)
$0$18,650 $0 × 10% $0 
18,65075,900 18,650 × 15% 1,865.00 
75,900153,100 75,900 × 25% 10,452.50 
153,100233,350 153,100 × 28% 29,752.50 
233,350416,700 233,350 × 33% 52,222.50 
416,700470,700 416,700 × 35% 112,728.00 
470,700 --  470,700 × 39.6% 131,628.00 


Criteria for Widow/Widower with Dependent Child Status

The four criteria for being eligible for this filing status:

  1. The taxpayer was eligible to file a joint return with his or her spouse for the year during which the spouse died, whether or not a joint return was filed.
  2. The taxpayer's spouse died during either of the two immediately preceding tax years.
  1. The taxpayer has not remarried during the tax year.
  2. The taxpayer maintains a home for at least one dependent who is a son, daughter, stepson or stepdaughter, whether related by blood or adoption. This dependent resides with the taxpayer for the entire tax year except for temporary absences.

Two-Year Rule for Qualifying Widow/Widower Status

A surviving spouse may be eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower status for the two years following the year in which his or her spouse passed away.

For example, suppose a spouse who passes away in 2017. The surviving spouse may file a joint return with his or her deceased spouse for the year of death (2017). For the next two years (2018 and 2019), the surviving spouse may file using the Qualifying Widow/Widower status. Afterwards (year 2020 and later), the person would need to choose another filing status, such as single or head household, depending on their circumstances.

Types of Dependents that Qualify a Taxpayer for Qualifying Widow/Widower Status

The surviving spouse must be eligible to claim his or her son or daughter or stepson or stepdaughter as a dependent. This is true whether the child is related by blood or adoption. Even though foster children are not included in the definition, nor any other types of dependent, that does not mean a surviving spouse cannot claim these other types of dependents.

What we're looking at is whether a taxpayer is eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower filing status.

Maintaining a Home for a Dependent Child

To be eligible for the Qualifying Widow/Widower filing status, the taxpayer needs to maintain a home for a son or daughter or stepson or stepdaughter. Maintaining a home means that the taxpayer furnished over half the cost of keeping up the home. Costs of keeping up a home include rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, utilities, and groceries.

Further, the child would need to reside in the same household as the taxpayer for the entire year, except for temporary absences. Temporary absences such as illness, education, business, vacation, or military service will not disqualify a taxpayer for the Qualifying Widow/Widower status. As the IRS notes, "It must be reasonable to assume the absent person will return to the home after the temporary absence.

You must continue to keep up the home during the absence" (from Publication 501).

Further Reading