When you prepare your annual income taxes, the amount of money you stand to gain or lose depends on filing correctly—including correctly identifying and claiming dependents in your care. The IRS allows you to deduct money from your income for each dependent you claim, which can result in a more favorable return for you. Knowing who to claim, then, ensures that you claim as much as you can without stretching the truth. Not all of your dependents have to be children, but they do all have to live under your care.
Claim children under your care. This includes your own children and any grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nieces or nephews that live under your primary care. Children must be either under 19 years old—if they are full-time students, they can be as old as 24.
Determine who is a "qualifying relative" and a "non-qualifying relative." These are dependents that may not necessarily live with you. For example, a parent or grandparent is considered a "qualifying relative," meaning that if they live under your primary financial care, they do not have to live with you. A cousin or friend, however financially dependent on you, must live with you in order to qualify as dependent—they are what the IRS calls "non-qualifying relatives."
Calculate the income for any potential dependents. If you contribute less than 50 percent of someone's total support, they do not qualify as your dependent.
You may never claim your spouse as a dependent (See References 3).
You may not claim a person as dependent if he or she files a joint tax return with another person. For example, if your 18-year-old son files jointly with his wife, you cannot claim him as a dependent (See References 2, 3).