What Is a Widow's Exemption?

Widow(er)’s Exemption Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

Recently widowed taxpayer filing taxes
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A widow’s exemption generally refers to tax exemptions or related allowances that enable widows or widowers to save money on various taxes—from federal income taxes to local property taxes.

If you’ve lost a spouse, it’s essential to understand what a widow(er)’s exemption is and how it can be applied to reduce your tax liabilities.

Definition and Examples of a Widow’s Exemption

A widow’s exemption is a tax benefit for someone who has lost a spouse, meets other requirements, and has not remarried within a specific time frame. These benefits help people save money on taxes after losing a spouse.

  • Alternate name: Widow(er)’s exemption

For example, in Florida, if you’re a permanent resident and your spouse has died, you might be eligible to claim a $500 exemption in addition to a $50,000 homestead exemption if you're 65 or older. This means you can reduce the taxable value of your home even more than if you only used the homestead exemption on its own.

How a Widow’s Exemption Works

The way that a widow(er)’s exemption works depends on the type of tax exemption or allowance, which can differ based on factors such as the jurisdiction you’re in. In general, you must meet the requirements to qualify as a widow or widower, which typically means you have not remarried and you were not divorced before your spouse died.

If you meet the requirements to be considered a widow or widower, you’ll have to file for the exemption you’re trying to qualify for, such as a property tax exemption. In addition, most agencies require you to provide a death certificate when you first file to prove your status as a widow or widower.

For federal taxes, you must meet all of these criteria:

  • Be entitled to file a joint return
  • Spouse must have passed away within the last two years
  • Must not have remarried before the end of the current tax year
  • Have a child who is a qualified dependent
  • Live with the child in your home all year
  • Have paid more than half of the home’s upkeep for the last year

You can claim the status of “qualifying widow(er)” on Form 1040 or 1040-SR, much as you might otherwise choose a filing status such as single or married filing jointly. For the tax year of your spouse's passing, you may still be able to file as married filing jointly. You then could be eligible for Qualifying Widow(er) status for the following two calendar years, which provides the tax benefits of filing a joint return.

Note

You’ll need to find the exemption criteria for your state to determine if you’re qualified for state tax exemptions. In most cases, you can find information on your state’s Department of Revenue or Taxation website.

What a Widow’s Exemption Means for Individuals

A widow(er)’s exemption gives you specific allowances and can potentially save you money on taxes after your spouse passes. While navigating these periods may be difficult, these exemptions and allowances might at least make your financial burden easier.

You could also be eligible for related allowances, such as filing as a qualifying widow(er) for federal or state income taxes, provided you also meet the other requirements. In addition, this status makes you eligible for higher standard deductions compared to filing as single because you’re filing under married filing jointly status.

So, in the unfortunate event your spouse passes away, both federal and state governments have taken measures to keep from making the situation worse for grieving taxpayers. Instead, you’re given extra time to adapt to your new circumstances.

There are many nuances to a widow(er)’s exemption and similar allowances, so you may want to speak with a tax professional who can help you accurately file and optimize your taxes in the event your spouse passes away.

Key Takeaways

  • A widow(er)’s exemption generally refers to a tax exemption or similar allowance that helps those who have lost a spouse save money on taxes.
  • Different jurisdictions have different types of widow(er)’s exemptions and allowances, so the tax savings can vary based on your circumstances.
  • To qualify for a widow’s exemption, you typically can’t remarry during the period for which you’re seeking eligibility.
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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Santa Rosa County Appraiser. "Exemptions."

  2. Florida Department of Revenue. "Eligibility Criteria to Qualify for Property Tax Exemption," Page 1.

  3. IRS. "Filing Status," Pages 4-8.

  4. IRS. "Publication 501 (2021), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information."

  5. American Institute of CPAs. "Taxes–States–Departments of Revenue Links."

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