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Dependents - According To The IRS


February 21, 2011

Who can I claim as a dependent?  Well, that depends!  In honor of Family Day, February 21, we take a look at identifying who can be claimed as a dependent on your individual tax return.

Being able to claim dependents is tied to a number of related tax benefits. If you have dependents, you can claim an additional personal exemption for each one.  In addition, taxpayers who claim dependents may be eligible to claim the Child Tax Credit, the child And Dependent Care Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Unmarried taxpayers who support dependents may be eligible to file as Head Of Household. With all these tax benefits tied to claiming a dependent, it’s important to make sure that you really can claim someone you believe to be a dependent on your tax return.

Keep in mind that if you are a divorced parent, you and your ex-spouse cannot both claim the child(ren) you have in common. The way the tax laws are written, only one person can claim a dependent on their tax return. Typically, in cases where two people could be eligible to claim the same child, only the taxpayer with whom the child resided longer throughout the year will most likely claim the child. If the child lived with both taxpayers equally, such as in a joint custody arrangement, the taxpayer with the higher adjusted gross income is entitled to claim the child as a dependent. However, two parents may be able to “share” the tax breaks associated with a child, provided these parents discuss and agree on who is going to file for which credits.

Children are certainly dependents, but can anyone else be a dependent?  The IRS says that a dependent is a qualifying child or an adult who meets certain criteria based on relationship, age, residency status and the amount of support the taxpayer provides.  Here’s a little more detail:


Dependent children must live with the taxpayer for more than half the year, be under age 19 and not provide more than 50 percent of their own support. The child must be related to the taxpayer, either biologically or through adoption. Full-time students under age 24 may be claimed as long as they meet other qualifying criteria. Permanently disabled children may be claimed regardless of their age, as long as they qualify as a dependent.


Taxpayers may also claim qualifying adult relatives as dependents as long as the taxpayer provides more than 50 percent of the person's support, and the relative can't make more than $3,650 per year, unless disabled, in order to qualify as a dependent. There are additional criteria for being able to claim adult dependents.


If you have been supporting a non-relative, you may be able to claim them as a dependent.  You will find information on this in Pub 501 under Member of Household or Relationship Test, which states that the person must either live with you all year as a member of your household, or be related to you in one of the ways listed under “Relatives who do not have to live with you”.  The list they are referring to is very detailed, but read through it to make sure.

Regarding claiming a non-relative as a dependent, there is one caveat, and that is that you cannot claim the non-relative residing with you if at any time during the year the relationship between you and that person violates local law.  So for example, if your girlfriend or boyfriend is living with you, and you have been supporting them because they are unemployed, you may not be able to claim them as a dependent if the state you live in doesn’t recognize common-law partnerships.

Fortunately, the IRS provides us with copious details, tests, and examples to assist us with determining who is a dependent. You can find it all in Pub 501. Or come visit your local PRO-TAX office, where our trained staff can assist you in determining who you can claim as a dependent.

To you and your dependents, Happy Family Day!