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Publication 559

Executors, and 




Throughout this publication, section references are to the Internal Revenue Code unless otherwise noted.

Requests for extension to file Form 1041.(p2)

The automatic extension of time to file Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts, has been decreased from six months to five months. You can request an automatic 5-month extension of time to file Form 1041 by filing Form 7004, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File Certain Business Income Tax, Information, and Other Returns.

Consistent treatment of estate and trust items.(p2)

Beneficiaries must generally treat estate items the same way on their individual returns as they are treated on the estate's return.

Photographs of missing children.(p2)

The Internal Revenue Service is a proud partner with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Photographs of missing children selected by the Center may appear in this publication on pages that would otherwise be blank. You can help bring these children home by looking at the photographs and calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) if you recognize a child.


This publication is designed to help those in charge of the property (estate) of an individual who has died (decedent). It shows them how to complete and file federal income tax returns and points out their responsibility to pay any taxes due.
A comprehensive example, using tax forms, is included near the end of this publication. Also included at the end of this publication are the following items.

Comments and suggestions.(p2)


We welcome your comments about this publication and your suggestions for future editions.
You can write to us at the following address:

Internal Revenue Service 
1111 Constitution Ave. NW, IR-6526 
Washington, DC 20224

We respond to many letters by telephone. Therefore, it would be helpful if you would include your daytime phone number, including the area code, in your correspondence.
You can email us at * (The asterisk must be included in the address.) Please put "Publications Comment" on the subject line. Although we cannot respond individually to each email, we do appreciate your feedback and will consider your comments as we revise our tax products.


Useful items

You may want to see:

 3 Armed Forces' Tax Guide
 950 Introduction to Estate and Gift Taxes
Form (and Instructions)
 SS-4: Application for Employer Identification Number
 56: Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship
 1040: U.S. Individual Income Tax Return
 1041: U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts
 706: United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return
 1310: Statement of Person Claiming Refund Due a Deceased Taxpayer
See How To Get Tax Help near the end of this publication for information about getting publications and forms. Also near the end of this publication is Table A, a handy checklist of forms and their due dates.

Personal Representative(p2)


Personal Representative

A personal representative of an estate is an executor, administrator, or anyone who is in charge of the decedent's property. Generally, an executor (or executrix) is named in a decedent's will to administer the estate and distribute properties as the decedent has directed. An administrator (or administratrix) is usually appointed by the court if no will exists, if no executor was named in the will, or if the named executor cannot or will not serve.
In general, an executor and an administrator perform the same duties and have the same responsibilities.
For estate tax purposes, if there is no executor or administrator appointed, qualified, and acting within the United States, the term "executor" includes anyone in actual or constructive possession of any property of the decedent. It includes, among others, the decedent's agents and representatives; safe-deposit companies, warehouse companies, and other custodians of property in this country; brokers holding securities of the decedent as collateral; and the debtors of the decedent who are in this country.
A personal representative for a decedent's estate can be an executor, administrator, or anyone in charge of the decedent's property, so the term personal representative will be used throughout this publication.



previous topic occurrence Duties next topic occurrence

The primary duties of a personal representative are to collect all the decedent's assets, pay the creditors, and distribute the remaining assets to the heirs or other beneficiaries.
The personal representative also must perform the following duties. Other duties of the personal representative in federal tax matters are discussed in other sections of this publication. If any beneficiary is a nonresident alien, see Publication 515, Withholding of Tax on Nonresident Aliens and Foreign Entities, for information on the personal representative's duties as a withholding agent.


There is a penalty for failure to file a tax return when due unless the failure is due to reasonable cause. Reliance on an agent (attorney, accountant, etc.) is not reasonable cause for late filing. It is the personal representative's duty to file the returns for the decedent and the estate when due.

Identification number.(p2)


The first action you should take if you are the personal representative for the decedent is to apply for an EIN for the estate. You should apply for this number as soon as possible because you need to enter it on returns, statements, and other documents you file concerning the estate. You also must give the number to payers of interest and dividends and other payers who must file a return concerning the estate.
You can get an EIN by applying online at or by calling 1-800-829-4933, Monday through Friday. Generally, if you apply online, you will receive your EIN immediately upon completing the application. You can also apply using Form SS-4, Application for Employer Identification Number. Generally, if you apply by mail, it takes about 4 weeks to get your EIN. See the form instructions for other ways to apply.
Payers of interest and dividends report amounts on Forms 1099 using the identification number of the person to whom the account is payable. After a decedent's death, Forms 1099 must reflect the identification number of the estate or beneficiary to whom the amounts are payable. As the personal representative handling the estate, you must furnish this identification number to the payer. For example, if interest is payable to the estate, the estate's EIN must be provided to the payer and used to report the interest on Form 1099-INT, Interest Income. If the interest is payable to a surviving joint owner, the survivor's identification number must be provided to the payer and used to report the interest.
If the estate or a survivor may receive interest or dividends after you inform the payer of the decedent's death, the payer should give you (or the survivor) a Form W-9, Request for Taxpayer Identification Number and Certification (or a similar substitute form). Complete this form to inform the payer of the estate's (or if completed by the survivor, the survivor's) identification number and return it to the payer.
Do not use the deceased individual's identifying number to file an individual tax return after the decedent's final tax return. Also do not use it to make estimated tax payments for a tax year after the year of death.


If you do not include the EIN or the taxpayer identification number of another person where it is required on a return, statement, or other document, you are liable for a penalty for each failure, unless you can show reasonable cause. You also are liable for a penalty if you do not give the taxpayer identification number of another person when required on a return, statement, or other document.

Notice of fiduciary relationship.(p3)


The term fiduciary means any person acting for another person. It applies to persons who have positions of trust on behalf of others. A personal representative for a decedent's estate is a fiduciary.

Form 56.(p3)

If you are appointed to act in a fiduciary capacity for another, you must file a written notice with the IRS stating this. Form 56, Notice Concerning Fiduciary Relationship, can be used for this purpose. The instructions and other requirements are given on the back of the form.
File Form 56 as soon as all the necessary information (including the EIN) is available. It notifies the IRS that you, as the fiduciary, are assuming the powers, rights, duties, and privileges of the decedent, and allows the IRS to mail to you all tax notices concerning the person (or estate) you represent. The notice remains in effect until you notify the IRS (by filing another Form 56) that your fiduciary relationship with the estate has terminated.

Termination of fiduciary relationship.(p3)

Form 56 should be filed to notify the IRS if your fiduciary relationship is terminated. Form 56 also should be filed to notify the IRS when a successor fiduciary is appointed if the estate has not been terminated. See Form 56 and its instructions for more information.
At the time of termination of the fiduciary relationship, you may want to file Form 4810, Request for Prompt Assessment Under Internal Revenue Code Section 6501(d), and Form 5495, Request for Discharge From Personal Liability Under Internal Revenue Code Section 2204 or 6905, to wind up your duties as fiduciary. See below for a discussion of these forms.

Request for prompt assessment (charge) of tax.(p3)


The IRS ordinarily has 3 years from the date an income tax return is filed, or its due date, whichever is later, to charge any additional tax due. However, as a personal representative, you may request a prompt assessment of tax after the return has been filed. This reduces the time for making the assessment to 18 months from the date the written request for prompt assessment was received. This request can be made for any tax return (except estate tax) of the decedent or the decedent's estate. This may permit a quicker settlement of the tax liability of the estate and an earlier final distribution of the assets to the beneficiaries.

Form 4810.(p3)

Form 4810 can be used for making this request. It must be filed separately from any other document.
As the personal representative for the decedent's estate, you are responsible for any additional taxes that may be due. You can request prompt assessment of any of the decedent's taxes (other than federal estate taxes) for any years for which the statutory period for assessment is open. This applies even though the returns were filed before the decedent's death.

Failure to report income.(p3)

If you or the decedent failed to report substantial amounts of gross income (more than 25% of the gross income reported on the return) or filed a false or fraudulent return, your request for prompt assessment will not shorten the period during which the IRS may assess the additional tax. However, such a request may relieve you of personal liability for the tax if you did not have knowledge of the unpaid tax.

Request for discharge from personal liability for tax.(p3)


An executor can make a request for discharge from personal liability for a decedent's income, gift, and estate taxes. The request must be made after the returns for those taxes are filed. To make the request, file Form 5495. For this purpose, an executor is an executor or administrator that is appointed, qualified, and acting within the United States.
Within 9 months after receipt of the request, the IRS will notify the executor of the amount of taxes due. If this amount is paid, the executor will be discharged from personal liability for any future deficiencies. If the IRS has not notified the executor, he or she will be discharged from personal liability at the end of the 9-month period.
Even if the executor is discharged from personal liability, the IRS will still be able to assess tax deficiencies against the executor to the extent he or she still has any of the decedent's property.

Insolvent estate.(p3)


Generally, if a decedent's estate is insufficient to pay all the decedent's debts, the debts due the United States must be paid first. Both the decedent's federal income tax liabilities at the time of death and the estate's income tax liability are debts due the United States. The personal representative of an insolvent estate is personally responsible for any tax liability of the decedent or of the estate if he or she had notice of such tax obligations or had failed to exercise due care in determining if such obligations existed before distribution of the estate's assets and before being discharged from duties. The extent of such personal responsibility is the amount of any other payments made before paying the debts due the United States, except where such other debt paid has priority over the debts due the United States. The income tax liabilities need not be formally assessed for the personal representative to be liable if he or she was aware or should have been aware of their existence.

Fees Received by 
Personal Representatives(p3)


Fees Received by Personal Representatives

All personal representatives must include in their gross income fees paid to them from an estate. If you are not in the trade or business of being an executor (for instance, you are the executor of a friend's or relative's estate), report these fees on Form 1040, line 21. If you are in the trade or business of being an executor, report these fees as self-employment income on Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ (Form 1040). Otherwise, self-employment tax only applies if a trade or business is included in the estate's assets, the executor actively participates in the business, and the fees are related to operation of the business.