Having a spouse who is totally disabled means your spouse likely depends on you for quite a bit of care. However, this type of dependency is not the same as being a dependent for Internal Revenue Service tax purposes. The terms "dependent" and "exemption" are often used interchangeably among people who aren't tax professionals, though they do not actually mean the same thing to the IRS.
According to IRS Publication 17, your spouse can never be claimed as your dependent. You can claim an exemption for your spouse if you file a return as married filing jointly. You may even be able to claim an exemption for your spouse if your status is married filing separately as long as your spouse had no gross income, is not filling a return and someone else cannot claim your spouse as a dependent. This applies to any spouse regardless of disability.
An exemption may be claimed for yourself, your spouse and each of your dependents, as long as all IRS requirements are met. Exemptions are used to reduce taxable income. In 2013, the amount of $3,900 per eligible exemption is deducted from adjusted gross income to arrive at taxable income. In general, you cannot claim an exemption for someone who can be claimed as a dependent by someone else.
Determining What a Dependent Is
A dependent is defined by the IRS as being a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. A qualifying child must be your child, stepchild, foster child, sibling, half sibling, stepsibling or a child of any of these relatives. A qualifying relative does not have to be a specific relation as long as that person lived with you the entire year as a part of your household and is not your spouse. This also means a disabled spouse cannot be used as a dependent in determining your eligibility for the earned income credit or to file as a head of household.
Child and Dependent Care Credit
Although your spouse cannot be claimed as your dependent, you may be able to claim a credit for dependent-care expenses related to your disabled spouse's care. The disabled spouse may be considered a qualifying person for this credit if he lived with you for more than half of the year. This credit is available if care was provided so you could work or look for work.
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