When you file your federal and state taxes jointly with your spouse and a refund is due, you will receive a check addressed to both parties. Whether you or your spouse can cash it alone depends on how it is written. You likely will need your spouse to sign the check before you attempt to cash it.
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Uniform Consumer Credit Code
The Uniform Consumer Credit Code regulates bank activities, including how checks are handled. It dictates who can cash a joint check based on how it is written. The presence of "and", "&", "or" and "," between names signify whether the couple must cash the check together or whether either party can cash it alone. The format varies by state for refund checks, but IRS joint refund checks are addressed with an "and" separating the names.
Cashing at a Bank
If the refund check is addressed to you "or" your spouse, or if there is a "," between the names, then your spouse can sign and cash it alone or deposit it into a personal account. However, if it is addressed to your spouse "and" or "&" you -- as is the case with a federal tax refund -- both parties must cash or deposit the check together. Sign the back of the check above the endorsement line and write your names in the same way they were written in front. Show a legal form of identification, such as your driver's license. If you both wish to deposit it, you can do so into your joint account. Your bank might have additional rules about cashing joint checks, and federal and state refund checks may not receive special treatment. Call ahead to find out what the rules are, if any, so you are prepared.
The UCCC rules apply to some extent when one spouse is deceased. The surviving spouse can cash the check when "or" separates the names. When there's an "and", the executor of the decedent's estate may sign the check for the decedent. There is no need for the executor to provide proof of a right to act but he must be able to show one if the Treasury requests it. If there is no executor, the surviving spouse can find out if their bank will accept the check given the situation. If not, the individual must send the check back to be reissued to him or her.
Reissuing the Check
You can have your refund check reissued if it was addressed in a way that makes it difficult for one spouse to cash it, such as when the other spouse is deceased or otherwise unavailable. Write a letter to the source of the check, whether the IRS or a state tax department, and explain your reason for your request. Include the check. If the reason is a deceased spouse, also include a copy of the death certificate. Send the package via certified mail with return receipt requested.