The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t impose any age restrictions on dependents who are disabled. If you pass all of the IRS tests for dependency, you can take an exemption. However, if the child didn’t live with you, you’ll have to decide whether he is your qualifying child or your qualifying relative. It may seem like a fine distinction, but the rules are a little different for children and relatives.
Qualifying Child — Relationship
A qualifying child doesn’t have to be your natural child. Qualifying children can be siblings, foster children, grandchildren, stepchildren, stepbrothers, half-brothers, stepsisters or half-sisters. They can also any of their direct descendants. Children related to your spouse in one of these ways also qualify as your own relative, and once a relationship is formed by marriage, it’s not broken by divorce or death.
Qualifying Child — Residency
The residency test is where you might run into a problem meeting the requirements for a qualifying child. The IRS rules state that he must have shared your residence for more than six months during the year. He could have been temporarily absent for vacation, educational reasons or health issues. An indefinite stay in a nursing home is considered a temporary absence if the purpose is necessary medical care. However, the IRS doesn’t define the word “temporary,” so you’ll need to look at your specific circumstances to decide if you get a passing grade on the residency test.
If your child doesn’t pass the test to be a qualifying child, he might still be your qualifying relative. The relationship test for dependent children who are qualifying relatives is the same as the one for a qualifying child. However, he doesn’t have to pass the residency test.
Support and Income
Whether your dependent is your qualifying child or qualifying relative, you must contribute more than half of his support for the year. Count as support all money spent on necessities, such as food, housing, medical care, transportation, vacations and clothing. Don’t count any money your child receives but doesn’t spend on his own support. For example, if he receives an annuity payment that's deposited into his savings account and not withdrawn, don’t include it. A qualifying child doesn’t have to meet any tests for income, but a qualifying relative cannot have more than $3,700 in gross income for the year. Don’t count as gross income any money he receives that is exempt from taxes, such as some Social Security payments or income from a qualified sheltered workshop.
Even if you meet all of the other tests, there are still three more hurdles you must clear to claim an exemption. He must be a U.S. citizen, national or resident alien; residents of Mexico and Canada qualify also. If someone else can claim you as a dependent, you aren’t allowed to take any exemptions for your own dependents. If your child is married and he files jointly with his wife, you may lose the exemption. If his only reason for filing was to receive a refund, however, and neither he nor his wife would have owed taxes if they’d filed separately, you can still claim him.
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