How Long Can I Claim My Child As A Dependent?

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Technically speaking, there is no specific age or time period that determines when a person must stop claiming a child as a dependent. In fact, even the elderly can be claimed as dependents as “qualifying relatives” regardless of their age. However, the determination of who can be claimed as a dependent is fairly complex. There are a number of basic terms and conditions as well as a series of tests that each potential dependent has to pass before they can legitimately be claimed as dependents, although age is not – in of itself – a major determining factor.

First there are a series of conditions that must be met before anyone can be claimed as a dependent, either as a “qualifying child” or a “qualifying relative”. These are: (a) no taxpayer can claim a dependent if he or she (or their spouse if filing jointly) can be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer; (b) a taxpayer cannot usually claim a married person who files jointly as a dependent, though there are a couple of exceptions to this rule; (c) a dependent has to be either a U.S. citizen, resident alien, national or a resident of Canada or Mexico; (d) any dependent has to qualify as the taxpayer’s “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative”. Assuming each of these initial conditions are met, then the potential dependent has to pass a series of additional requirements.

To meet the requirements of being a “qualifying child” the child has to: (a) be the taxpayer’s child, step child, foster child, sibling, half sibling, stepsibling or a the descendent of any of these; (b) the child has to be either nineteen years old and younger than the taxpayer, twenty-four years old if they are also a full time student, or can be any age if the child is permanently and completely disabled; (c) the child has to have lived with the taxpayer for at least half the year being filed for; (d) the child cannot have provided for more than half of their own support during the tax year; (e) the child is not filing a joint return on his or her on behalf (with exceptions); and (f) if the child can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer, the person claiming has to be the one allowed to do so.

The requirements for a “qualifying relative” are a bit different. These include: (a) the person cannot be the “qualifying child” to either the taxpayer or anyone else; (b) either the person has to be related to the taxpayer as defined by the IRS or the person has to live as a regular full-time member of the taxpayer’s household in a legal living arrangement; (c) the person’s gross annual income cannot exceed $3,650, though there are exceptions for people receiving disability payments; and (d) the taxpayer has to cover at least half of the person’s annual living expenses throughout the tax year in question, though again there are some exceptions depending on circumstances.

The exact rules and guidelines are more complex and explained in detail in IRS Publication 501. As long as your child meets all of the appropriate conditions outlined above, the child can be claimed as a dependent. Noting that many of these terms and conditions may change over the course of a year, the dependent should be retested each tax year in order to guarantee that they still qualify as either a “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative”.

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