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An exception to the "December 31 rule" for determining whether a person is considered to be married applies to those whose spouses have died in the past year.
Generally, you can file a joint return with your spouse for the year in which your spouse dies, and you'll be treated as married for the entire year. You can also claim the whole personal exemption for the deceased spouse. However, in order to file jointly, you must have the consent of the personal representative (executor or administrator) of the deceased spouse's estate, if you are not the representative.
This rule does not hold if you remarry within the year. In that case, you can file jointly with your new spouse, but not with the old one. The return of the deceased spouse would have to be filed as "married filing separately" for the final year.
Qualifying widows or widowers. Some surviving spouses can continue to use the "married filing jointly" tax rates for up to two years after the year in which their spouse died. To take advantage of this option for your 2011 return, all of the following must be true:
Surviving spouses who meet these tests and are able to continue using the joint return rates are called "qualifying widows or widowers" and must check off the box for that filing status on Line 5 of Form 1040.
Although, they have the advantage of continuing to use the joint return tax amounts in the tax table, they may not claim a personal exemption for the deceased spouse for any year after the year in which the spouse died.