Do You Need Power of Attorney to Sign Joint Tax Returns?

by Jordan Meyers, Demand Media
    A power of attorney gives you the right to sign your spouse's name on a joint return.

    A power of attorney gives you the right to sign your spouse's name on a joint return.

    Filing an income tax return is rarely fun but it's definitely easier when both spouses are present and willing to sign. Unfortunately, you may eventually face a situation in which you want to file a joint return, but your spouse is unable to sign it. A power of attorney usually fits the bill in this case, but there are some situations in which you won't need one.

    Spouse Stationed Overseas

    If your spouse is in the military and will be stationed overseas when you file your joint tax return, the best thing to do is have him sign a power of attorney before he leaves. This way, you'll have the right to sign on his behalf when the times comes.You can have your spouse complete and sign Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 2848 to give you this right.

    Missing Military Spouse

    Having a spouse who is missing in a combat zone can be a living nightmare. There's no need to add to your distress by worrying about a power of attorney. You can sign and submit a joint tax return without obtaining a power of attorney in such a case. According to the IRS, your joint tax return will still be considered valid if you later learn that your spouse died before the tax year covered by the return.

    Incapacitated Spouse

    You can sign for your spouse without a power of attorney if she is injured or incapacitated and cannot sign the income tax form. After obtaining her verbal permission, you will first sign your name on the appropriate line, then sign her name in the space designated for her signature. Following her name, you must print "by your name" followed by the title of husband or wife. In addition, you must include a signed and dated statement that explains why your spouse was unable to sign the return.

    Deceased Spoused

    Since you cannot obtain a power of attorney for a deceased spouse, the IRS provides another way for you to submit a joint tax return. If your spouse was alive for part of the tax year in question and you did not remarry during that tax year, you can write "filing as surviving spouse" on the signature line. If an executor has been appointed, he must sign the tax form as well.

    Other Cases

    If your spouse is missing but not in the military, traveling overseas for a non-military reason or otherwise absent at tax time, you must obtain a power of attorney to sign a joint tax return on his behalf. Attach a copy of the power of attorney to your tax return. If you cannot obtain power of attorney, you may need to file a separate tax return. Alternatively, you may request an extension if you expect your spouse to return within a reasonable amount of time.

    About the Author

    Jordan Meyers has been a freelance writer, specializing in health, education, business and parenting topics for more than a decade and a copy editor since 2008. Meyers has written Web and print copy for hundreds of businesses, including many Fortune 500 companies. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Maryland and is studying for a bachelor's degree in psychology.

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