Can you claim an adult child as a dependent?

The Moment of Truth

Now that you've established that your child is either a qualifying child or a qualifying relative, the remaining three tests are actually pretty easy:

  • The dependent taxpayer test: If you (or your spouse, if filing jointly) could be claimed as a dependent by any other person, you cannot claim anyone else as a dependent -- even your qualifying relatives or qualifying children. (Of course, the good news is that if someone else can claim you as a dependent, you can do to them what your adult children are doing to you. Be considerate and pick up your wet towels off the floor, won't you?)
  • The joint return test: If your child files a joint return with someone else, you may not claim your child as a dependent, unless the joint return is filed only to claim a refund.
  • The citizen or resident test: You cannot claim a person as a dependent unless that person is a U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico. (There are exceptions for certain adopted children.)

So provided that your child is a qualifying child or qualifying relative, you and your spouse are not the dependents of anyone else, your adult child is not filing a joint return, and your child meets the citizenship requirements listed above, the answer is yes, you can claim your adult child as a dependent on your tax return.

Related Articles


  • Brackey, Harriet Johnson. "Tax Q&A: Can I claim my adult son as a dependent?" Sun Sentinel. Feb. 3, 2010. (May 16, 2011)
  • Godofsky, Jessica. "Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy." Rutgers University. May 2011. (May 22, 2011)
  • Internal Revenue Service. "Important Tax Law Changes for 2010." Feb. 14, 2011. (May 16, 2011),,id=120227,00.html
  • Internal Revenue Service Publication 501. "Exemptions for Dependents." (May 16, 2011)
  • Internal Revenue Service Publication 501. "Qualifying Child." (May 16, 2011)
  • Saenz, George. "Claiming an Adult Dependent." March 4, 2004. (May 14, 2011)
  • Shellenbarger, Sue. "Cost of Raising a Child Ticks Up." The Wall Street Journal. June 10, 2010. (May 21, 2011)
  • Twentysomething, Inc. "In the News." (May 13, 2011)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. " Expenditures on Children by Families, 2009." (May 22, 2011)