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After the death of a loved one, taxes might not be on your list of things to think about. However, the government may entitle your loved one to certain benefits ─ including tax forgiveness. Here are answers to some common questions about tax liability and forgiveness.
When does the government entitle a deceased service member to tax forgiveness?
Tax liability is the entire sum of tax money you pay annually to the federal government. The government can forgive or refund the taxes if a service member dies under any of the following events:
- While on active duty in a combat zone
- From wounds, disease or other injury received in a combat zone
- From wounds or injury incurred in a terrorist or military action
Which tax years will the government forgive?
This varies based on the events of the death:
- For combat zone-related deaths: The IRS forgives the service member’s tax liability for the tax year in which the death occurred — and any previous tax years ending on or after the first day of active duty in a combat zone. The government also forgives any remaining unpaid taxes from previous years.
- For deaths outside a combat zone, but in direct support of military operations: The same forgiveness benefits apply as those for combat zone-related deaths.
- For terrorist or military action related-deaths: The IRS forgives the service member’s tax liability for the year in which the injury occurred (even if death occurs in a separate year) and one year prior. So, a service member who dies in 2022 from injuries sustained in a 2021 terrorist attack could receive tax forgiveness beginning in 2020.
How does tax forgiveness affect joint filing?
- If you and your spouse typically file jointly, forgiveness or a refund only applies to the deceased service member’s portion of your tax liability.
- When you submit a claim for tax forgiveness, you’ll need to determine the portion of your joint tax liability for which the service member would have been liable if you had filed a separate return.
How can I submit a claim for tax forgiveness?
Review the IRS Publication 559 to verify the most current instruction. Tax forgiveness isn’t automatic, so you’ll need to submit a survivor’s claim:
- If you have not filed the tax return, file a Form 1040 with the service member’s W-2.
- If you already filed the tax return, file a separate Form 1040X for each year in question.
You can identify your claim by writing one of the following on the total tax line on Forms 1040 or 1040X:
- Enduring Freedom-KIA
- Kosovo Operation-KIA
- Desert Storm-KIA
- Former Yugoslavia-KIA
If a terrorist action resulted in the death of the service member, write KITA on the front of the return and on the line for total tax. You’ll also need to include:
- A computation of the decedent’s tax liability
- Form 1310, “Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer”
- A death certificate or equivalent from the Defense Department or the Department of State
Military OneSource can provide free tax information. You can also access free tax preparation and e-filing services through Military OneSource by calling toll-free 800-342-9647. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.
You also have the option of reaching out for assistance with tax preparation concerning your loved one through the judge advocate office closest to you or to request financial counseling through your service’s long-term survivor care program:
- Army Survivor Outreach Services
- Marine Corps Long-Term Assistance Program
- Navy Gold Star Program
- Air Force Families Forever Program (includes Space Force)
- Coast Guard Gold Star Program