There is a common misconception that for tax purposes a dependent must be your child, (or at least be a child). In fact, anyone who fulfills each of the requirements for being a dependent can be claimed as a dependent, regardless of whether the person is a child or an adult.
Let’s take a look at these requirements for you to be able to claim someone as your dependent:
* The person must not be claimed as a dependent by anyone else.
This also means if the person files a tax return, he or she may not take an exemption for himself or herself.
* The person must have a social security number.
You need to provide this number so the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can screen for multiple claims for the same dependent.
* The person cannot file a joint tax return with another person.
The exception is if the joint tax return is solely to claim taxes that had been withheld.
* The person must be a U.S. citizen, a U.S. resident alien, a resident of Canada, or a resident of Mexico for at least part of the year.
* The person must be your relative, or have lived with you for the entire year.
There is an exception that if your relationship with the person who lived with you the entire year at any time “violated local law,” then you can’t claim him or her as a dependent. Whether nowadays courts will look kindly on the IRS basing its rules on local cohabitation and sodomy laws is an interesting question, especially since some of these laws likely wouldn’t pass Constitutional muster. You can still claim the person as a dependent regardless, and let the IRS decide if it will allow or disallow it based on the allegedly “illicit” nature of your relationship.
* The person must either be your child and under 19; be your child, age 19-23, and a student for at least five months of the year; have a disability; or have an income under the tax year’s exemption amount ($3,650 for 2009).
* The person must either be your child and under 19; be your child, age 19-23, and a student for at least five months of the year; or you must have provided over 50% of his or her living or support costs for the year.
All of the above requirements must be met. It’s not an “either-or”; it’s an “and.”
There are a lot more details and complications not covered here, such as which of a divorced ex-husband and ex-wife get to claim a certain dependent, so it is worth consulting a qualified tax professional to ask questions about your specific circumstances.