For tax year 2013 and going forward, same-sex spouses generally must file their federal tax returns using either a married filing separately or married filing jointly status. For 2012 tax returns filed prior to September 16, 2013 and prior tax years, same-sex spouses have the option to go back and amend their federal tax returns to change their filing status to married. In many cases, there is a tax advantage to filing as married instead of single so some of these filers may be owed a refund for those prior years.
In order to amend your tax return, the statute of limitations for amending a tax return to get a refund must not have expired. You generally may file a claim for a refund for three years from the date the return was filed or two years from the date the tax was paid, whichever is later. If you filed your 2012 return on April 15, 2013 and paid the taxes due on September 15, 2013, then you would have until April 15, 2016 to amend your return.
Usually, but not always, filing jointly with a spouse is a tax-saver. To figure out whether you would be owed a refund, take the prior returns that you filed separately and run the numbers to see if changing your status to married filing jointly or married filing separately reduces your tax liability. You can use a tax program like TurboTax to help you do this, or you can see a tax pro for help.
The tax form used to amend a personal tax return is Form 1040X. For information on filing an amended return, check with your tax preparer or go to Tax Topic 308, Amended Returns on the IRS website.
It’s not hard to make the filing status decision at tax time. Tax preparation software, like TurboTax, allows you to run the numbers both ways before choosing.