One of the numerous tasks that must be completed after a loved one has passed away is the filing of his or her final tax return. There is a relatively brief period of time during which the tax return is supposed to be filed, and handling a decedent’s tax return is different than filing taxes for an individual, couple, or business. The assets included in the decedent’s estate, their value at the time of death, and how they are distributed all play an important role in how they are characterized. Without the assistance of someone experienced in estate taxes, you run the risk of making costly estate tax return mistakes.

Missed Filing Deadlines

Missing the tax return filing deadline is one of the most common mistakes that is made after a loved one passes away. Estate taxes must be filed within nine months of the date of death. If filing within that time frame is impossible, an extension should be requested that provides an additional six months of filing time. In some situations, a separate form specifically asking for more time to pay taxes is required since an extension on filing does not automatically mean an extension on paying taxes that are owed. Failing to file the estate taxes or request an extension could mean that penalties are assessed and interest begins accruing.

No Documentation

The actual value of certain assets such as real estate and tangible property is difficult to ascertain without a documented appraisal. Filing estate taxes with little or no documentation, especially if aggressive deductions are taken, can create numerous problems. Having no documentation that shows fair market value and not offering explanation of discounts increase the chances of having the estate tax return audited. Including documentation that is thorough when filing a tax return for an estate reduces the chances of having the return reviewed or delayed.

Not Electing Portability

When filing a federal tax return for a spouse who has passed away, a “portability” election must be made in order to allow the surviving spouse to utilize any previously unused federal estate tax exemptions. Even if you are unsure of whether or not the surviving spouse will need the exemption, it is always a good idea to select it. If financial circumstances for the spouse who survives suddenly changes and the election was not previously made, the surviving spouse may find themselves in a difficult situation.

Planning for Taxes

The best way to help your beneficiaries avoid tax related difficulties after you pass away is to discuss your needs with an estate attorney. An attorney who is familiar with estate tax return laws and requirement can assist you with providing clear instructions for your heirs. If a loved one has recently passed away and you are overwhelmed by the prospect of filing his or her final tax return, an estate attorney can also assist you by explaining basic estate tax rules. MMZ Law understands how stressful the months immediately following the death of a loved one can be. We are prepared to provide you with the legal advice and assistance you need to properly execute their final wishes. Contact our conveniently located Claremont, California office today to schedule a consultation so that we can discuss your unique needs.



341 W. 1st St. Suite 100
Claremont, CA 91711

MARIVEL M. ZIALCITA is the founder of MMZ LAW, A Professional Corporation, where she practices in the areas of Elder Law – Medi-Cal Planning Asset Protection, Trust & Estate, Special Needs, Conservatorship, Trust Administration, & Probate. Ms. Zialcita is a frequent speaker on trust and estate matters and holds memberships in the State Bar of California, Trust and Estate Section, The San Bernardino County Bar Association, Wealth Counsel and Elder Counsel. She currently assists in the pro bono legal services program at the James L. Brulte Senior Center in Rancho Cucamonga, California. She is based in Claremont but assists clients throughout Southern California.

This information is educational information only and not legal advice.