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Deciding whether a given household member is your dependent is usually obvious. In most cases, the person is a minor child living with one or both parents, and there is no doubt that the child is being supported by his or her parent(s). Your spouse can never be your dependent.
However, in cases where a child who has substantial income is a member of the household, where an extended family lives under one roof, or where a family supports someone who is living elsewhere, there may be questions as to whether a certain individual qualifies for a dependency exemption.
In order to claim a person as your dependent, there are a number of tests that must be met. The "citizenship test" and the "joint return test" must be satisfied in all cases. However, the other requirements that must be met vary depending upon whether the individual is considered a "qualifying child" or a "qualifying relative."
|Dependency Exemption Tests|
|Qualifying Child||Qualifying Relative|
|Relationship||Not a "qualifying child"|
|Age||Relationship OR Member of Household|
The IRS has come up with a five-part test to determine whether a person is really your dependent.
Briefly, if the individual meets all of the following tests, he or she is your dependent and is not permitted to claim an individual exemption on his or her own tax return:
If your child meets all five of the tests, you can claim a full exemption for the child, even if he or she was born on the last day of the year.
If your child or other dependent died during the year but would otherwise have met all five tests, you can still claim the exemption for the dependent. Also, a child who qualifies as a dependent immediately prior to being kidnapped by a nonrelative (as determined by law enforcement authorities) continues to be considered a dependent for all tax years during the period of the kidnapping until the first tax year after the year in which the child is determined to be deceased (or, if earlier, the year in which the child would have turned 18).