There are two kinds of taxes owed by an estate: One on the transfer of assets from the decedent to their beneficiaries and heirs (the estate tax), and another on income generated by assets of the decedent’s estate (the income tax). This page contains basic information to help you understand when an estate is required to file an income tax return.
When someone dies, their assets become property of their estate. Any income those assets generate is also part of the estate and may trigger the requirement to file an estate income tax return. Examples of assets that would generate income to the decedent’s estate include savings accounts, CDs, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and rental property. IRS Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts, is required if the estate generates more than $600 in annual gross income.
The decedent and their estate are separate taxable entities. Before filing Form 1041, you will need to obtain a tax ID number for the estate. An estate’s tax ID number is called an “employer identification number,” or EIN, and comes in the format 12-345678X. You can apply online for this number. You can also apply by FAX or mail; see How to Apply for an EIN.