How do I Determine Who is a Dependent in 2019?

We’ll be looking at tax year 2018 for this one, folks. To narrow down who is a dependent for your 2018 tax return, we need to start with the three tests that apply to every dependent, regardless of whether they are a qualifying relative or a qualifying child.

As always, review each test carefully and make sure it applies correctly to your situation.

The first test is:

Joint Return Test

The prospective dependent must not be filing a joint return i.e. they must not be married and filing with their spouse. An example of this would be if your child, even if they are 18 years old, attending school, and you provided over half of their support, got married before the end of the year and they choose to file with their new spouse.


The only exception to the Joint Return Test is if the prospective dependent was only filing for a return of withheld taxes, not because they have a filing requirement.

Citizen or Resident Test

To claim anyone as a dependent, that person must have been a citizen or a resident of the United States. This wording may be confusing because in practice a potential dependent must actually be one of the following: U.S. citizen, U.S. resident alien, U.S. national, or a resident of Canada or Mexico. You may need to seek additional guidance if you are unclear on this one.

Dependent Taxpayer Test

Anyone who is eligible to be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return is therefore ineligible of claiming a dependent on their own tax return.

This can be best visualized by a young mother living at home with her parents. If the parents are eligible to claim the young mother on their tax return as a dependent, the young mother is not able to claim her own child on her tax return as a dependent.


If the potential dependent has cleared these three tests, they are well on their way to becoming a qualified dependent. However, they must clear additional tests.

The tests will differ based on whether they are more likely to be a qualifying child or a qualifying relative.

Click here to review the tests for a child qualifying child dependent.


This article does not constitute advice. For information regarding your specific situation, please consult your local specialist.