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Publication 17

Married Filing Jointly(p21)

You can choose married filing jointly as your filing status if you are considered married and both you and your spouse agree to file a joint return. On a joint return, you and your spouse report your combined income and deduct your combined allowable expenses. You can file a joint return even if one of you had no income or deductions.
If you and your spouse decide to file a joint return, your tax may be lower than your combined tax for the other filing statuses. Also, your standard deduction (if you do not itemize deductions) may be higher, and you may qualify for tax benefits that do not apply to other filing statuses.
If you and your spouse each have income, you may want to figure your tax both on a joint return and on separate returns (using the filing status of married filing separately). You can choose the method that gives the two of you the lower combined tax.

How to file.(p21)

If you file as married filing jointly, you can use Form 1040. If you and your spouse have taxable income of less than $100,000, you may be able to file Form 1040A. If, in addition, you and your spouse have no dependents, are both under 65 and not blind, and meet other requirements, you can file Form 1040EZ. If you file Form 1040 or Form 1040A, show this filing status by checking the box on line 2. Use the Married filing jointly column of the Tax Table or Section B of the Tax Computation Worksheet to figure your tax.

Spouse died.(p21)

If your spouse died during the year, you are considered married for the whole year and can choose married filing jointly as your filing status. See Spouse died during the year under Marital Status, earlier, for more information.
If your spouse died in 2015 before filing a 2014 return, you can choose married filing jointly as your filing status on your 2014 return.

Divorced persons.(p21)

If you are divorced under a final decree by the last day of the year, you are considered unmarried for the whole year and you cannot choose married filing jointly as your filing status.

Filing a Joint Return(p21)

Both you and your spouse must include all of your income, exemptions, and deductions on your joint return.

Accounting period.(p21)

Both of you must use the same accounting period, but you can use different accounting methods. See Accounting Periods and Accounting Methods in chapter 1.

Joint responsibility.(p21)

Both of you may be held responsible, jointly and individually, for the tax and any interest or penalty due on your joint return. This means that if one spouse does not pay the tax due, the other may have to. Or, if one spouse does not report the correct tax, both spouses may be responsible for any additional taxes assessed by the IRS. One spouse may be held responsible for all the tax due even if all the income was earned by the other spouse.
You may want to file separately if:
Divorced taxpayer.(p21)
You may be held jointly and individually responsible for any tax, interest, and penalties due on a joint return filed before your divorce. This responsibility may apply even if your divorce decree states that your former spouse will be responsible for any amounts due on previously filed joint returns.
Relief from joint responsibility.(p21)
In some cases, one spouse may be relieved of joint responsibility for tax, interest, and penalties on a joint return for items of the other spouse that were incorrectly reported on the joint return. You can ask for relief no matter how small the liability.
There are three types of relief available.
  1. Innocent spouse relief.
  2. Separation of liability (available only to joint filers who are divorced, widowed, legally separated, or have not lived together for the 12 months ending on the date the election for this relief is filed).
  3. Equitable relief.
You must file Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief, to request relief from joint responsibility. Publication 971, Innocent Spouse Relief, explains these kinds of relief and who may qualify for them.

Signing a joint return.(p21)

For a return to be considered a joint return, both spouses generally must sign the return.
Spouse died before signing.(p21)
If your spouse died before signing the return, the executor or administrator must sign the return for your spouse. If neither you nor anyone else has yet been appointed as executor or administrator, you can sign the return for your spouse and enter "Filing as surviving spouse" in the area where you sign the return.
Spouse away from home.(p22)
If your spouse is away from home, you should prepare the return, sign it, and send it to your spouse to sign so that it can be filed on time.
Injury or disease prevents signing.(p22)
If your spouse cannot sign because of disease or injury and tells you to sign for him or her, you can sign your spouse's name in the proper space on the return followed by the words "By (your name), Husband (or Wife)." Be sure to also sign in the space provided for your signature. Attach a dated statement, signed by you, to the return. The statement should include the form number of the return you are filing, the tax year, and the reason your spouse cannot sign, and should state that your spouse has agreed to your signing for him or her.
Signing as guardian of spouse.(p22)
If you are the guardian of your spouse who is mentally incompetent, you can sign the return for your spouse as guardian.
Spouse in combat zone.(p22)
You can sign a joint return for your spouse if your spouse cannot sign because he or she is serving in a combat zone (such as the Persian Gulf Area, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, or Afghanistan), even if you do not have a power of attorney or other statement. Attach a signed statement to your return explaining that your spouse is serving in a combat zone. For more information on special tax rules for persons who are serving in a combat zone, or who are in missing status as a result of serving in a combat zone, see Publication 3, Armed Forces' Tax Guide.
Other reasons spouse cannot sign.(p22)
If your spouse cannot sign the joint return for any other reason, you can sign for your spouse only if you are given a valid power of attorney (a legal document giving you permission to act for your spouse). Attach the power of attorney (or a copy of it) to your tax return. You can use Form 2848, Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative.

Nonresident alien or dual-status alien.(p22)

Generally, a married couple cannot file a joint return if either one is a nonresident alien at any time during the tax year. However, if one spouse was a nonresident alien or dual-status alien who was married to a U.S. citizen or resident alien at the end of the year, the spouses can choose to file a joint return. If you do file a joint return, you and your spouse are both treated as U.S. residents for the entire tax year. See chapter 1 of Publication 519.