Age is only one factor in deciding whether you can claim a dependent and take an exemption on your taxes. In that sense there is no specific "age limit" for claiming dependents, although all dependents must meet certain IRS requirements. For example, dependents typically have to be U.S. citizens, resident aliens, or citizens of Canada or Mexico. The IRS rules are complex and you must be sure you are following them.
A dependent must be either a "qualifying child" or "qualifying relative." Only qualifying children have an age test. A qualifying child must be under 19 at the end of the year. If your child is a full-time student, you can claim an exemption until she's 24 years old. If she becomes permanently and totally disabled, you can potentially claim her as a dependent at any age.
Your qualifying child doesn't have to be your birth child. If he's the right age and stays with you more than half the year, you can claim him whether he's a stepchild, foster child, adoptive child, or sibling,. Descendants of any of these relatives -- your stepbrother's son, for instance -- can also qualify if they live with you and meet all the other rules. In some cases, the child can live with you for less than half the year -- for example, in certain joint custody situations or when the child lives away at college during the school year -- as long as you pay more than half the child's support.
If you claim a qualifying relative, there is no age limit to taking the dependent's exemption. There are financial limits, however. For example, you must provide more than half the relative's support for the year, and she must earns less than $3,700, though the IRS allows exceptions for both of these requirements in certain cases. A qualifying relative must make her home with you, but again with certain exceptions. For example, the IRS exempts parents from living with you if they meet the support and income test.
Even if your child is older than 24 and not disabled, you can still claim him as a qualifying relative if he meets the financial tests. You cannot claim him as a qualifying child and a qualifying relative at the same time, however. And regardless of whether a dependent is classified as a qualifying child or relative, two taxpayers cannot claim the exemption for the same person. If someone else want to claim your child as a qualifying child -- an ex-spouse, for instance -- the IRS applies certain "tiebreaker" rules, which you must follow in determining who gets to take the exemption.
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