Most people die in a hospital; sometimes after a long and slow decline, sometimes after a quick and unexpected tragedy. If you are an executor of the deceased’s estate this is significant because it means that there are usually final medical bills to be paid. What most executors do not know is that these final medical bills are not necessarily just like all the other final expenses, especially when it comes to filing a final tax return for the estate: they may either be taken as deductions on the decdent’s final Income Tax Return (From 1040) or , if the decedent’s estate is valued at more than $3.5 Million (2009 exclusion), on the Estate Tax Return (Form 706).   This article from The Wall Street Journal explains why.

“…When a person incurs medical expenses and dies before they are paid, the executor of the decedent’s estate can elect to treat those medical expenses as if they were paid when incurred – as long as the estate pays the expenses within one year after the date of death. In other words, this election allows those expenses to be deducted on the decedent’s final Form 1040, even though they were not paid by the date of death.”

Many executors may not think of this option because medical expenses can only be deducted if they exceed a certain percentage of the deceased’s adjusted gross income (7.5% to be exact); but health care being what it is, final medical expenses can quite often reach this point.  If so, they can be deducted on the Form 1040, even if not paid until after the decedent died.

This sounds easy, but be careful if the deceased’s estate exceeds the $3.5 million estate tax exemption—you may want to look into other options. The Wall Street Journal suggests that in this case it might be beneficial to “forgo the election and count the unpaid medical expenses as liabilities on the estate tax return.”

As the executor of an estate you may have more options than you are aware of when it comes to taxes, probate, and achieving the best results for the beneficiaries. If you are unsure, contact a professional who can help advise you on all angles of the trustee or probate process.