How Long Do You Need to Keep Tax Records After Someone Dies?

by Jeannine Mancini
After the death of a loved one, a final tax return must be filed on his behalf.

After the death of a loved one, a final tax return must be filed on his behalf.

Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images

As they saying goes, the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Even if the event of death, taxes are still due for the year and a final tax return must be filed. If you are in charge of a decedent's estate, you want to ensure you have her financial documents on hand to properly prepare and file taxes. The length of time you should keep tax records and supporting documents after death varies, depending on the circumstances. However, there are guidelines the Internal Revenue Service sets for all taxpayers.

Income Tax Due Date

After the death of an individual, the personal representative of the estate or the administrator is responsible for filing the tax return. If no one is appointed, a survivor must file on behalf of the decedent. The taxes are due the same date for everyone, with no exceptions made for death. For example, if the individual passes away in March of 2013, the taxes are due April 15, 2014. When preparing the taxes, use the same form that would have been used if the taxpayer were alive. After the taxpayers' name, write "deceased."

Standard Returns

The IRS generally has a three-year statute of limitations to audit a tax return. You should be able to produce records and supporting documents proving any income, deductions or credits you claimed on the return for at least three years from the date of filing. In case issues arise from the decedent's returns filed before death, keep federal and state income tax returns and statements for at least three years.

Income Reporting Errors

In case you may have overlooked income or were unsure of all the sources of income the decedent had received, hold onto the records for at least six years to be on the safe side. The IRS requires you to be able to produce tax records and financial documents for as far back as six years if you fail to report more than 25 percent of the decedent's gross annual income. If the final tax return was not filed or you are accused of committing tax fraud, there is no statute of limitations for conducting an audit.

Deciding Documents to Keep

Keeping all the paperwork may seem overwhelming. You do not have to keep everything for tax purposes. Lighten the load by tossing documents that no longer serve a purpose. For instance, you can throw away weekly pay stubs after verifying the information matches the taxpayer's W-2 Form. If there are any discrepancies, hold onto the pay stubs to be on the safe side. Save bank and interest statements along with cancelled checks and receipts that relate directly to any deductions you claim for the decedent.

About the Author

Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She has also written for Chron, San Francisco Chronicle, The Nest, Opposing Money Views and The Motley Fool. She earned a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary Ssudies from the University of Central Florida.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images