Head of Household (HOH) is a special filing status permitted by the IRS for individuals who qualify. Who does or does not make the cut is a constant cause of confusion and frustration for numerous taxpayers.
The process of inclusion or elimination can be elusive even for tax preparers who deal with HOH situations on a routine basis.
First of all, you the taxpayer, should understand the definition of HOH and how extensive, and elusive the qualifying process can become. You cannot possibly qualify for HOH unless you have a “qualifying person.” That person can be a qualifying child such as a son, daughter or grandchild who lived with you more than half the year and meets certain other tests. The person can also be your “qualifying relative” who may be your mother or father. Also qualifying in this group are grandparents, brothers, sisters, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister, stepmother, stepfather, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and if related by blood, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece.
You must be unmarried at the end of the year and maintain a household for your child, parent or other qualifying relative. Additionally you must be a U. S. citizen or resident for the entire year. If you are married but for the last half of the year you lived apart from your spouse, you are considered unmarried for HOH purposes and qualify for the HOH tax rates and standard deduction, which are more favorable than filing Married Filing Separately.
There are tests:
Are You Unmarried? To satisfy this test you must be single on December 31st of the tax year, or a widow or widower and your spouse passed in the preceding two years (not the current tax year for which you are filing). If your spouse passed in the current tax year you are treated as married for the entire year.
Custody and support order do not qualify as a legal separation. A provisional decree (not final) such as a support order (pendente lite) or a temporary order is without value for tax purposes. If there is no final decree, you are “married.” Likewise, a custody or support order does not qualify as a legal separation.
Here’s where most taxpayers qualify: You are still married but living apart from your spouse. You spouse must not be a member of your household during the last six months of the year. Will the IRS ever know that your spouse resided in the household during the Christmas holidays? Probably not – but why take the chance.
Finally, if you are married to an individual who was a nonresident alien during any part of the tax year, and you do not elect to file a joint return reporting your joint worldwide income, you are considered unmarried.
Did you pay more than half of the costs of maintaining a home for the qualifying person?
This will be covered in Part II of this topic. It will be published on this site – stay tuned.
Tax Wisdom – We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough: we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.
– Ronald Reagan