Can you claim a prison inmate as a dependent?

May 14, 2014 by Dave Du Val, EA
Handcuffs laying on a 1040 form

Hey Dave,

My son was arrested in December of 2012 and spent the entire year of 2013 in jail awaiting trial. During that year I paid his attorney fees, car payments, car insurance, and his per diem charges at the jail plus phone charges and commissary fees. He earned $0 for the year. Can I still claim him as a dependent?

Martin

 

Martin,

I salute your caring enough to not give up on someone who may have made a mistake. I hope your son appreciates your efforts.

Now for the tax question: sadly, if your son was 19 or older in 2013 you will probably not be able to claim him as a dependent for 2013 (you may have been able to claim him in 2012 if all the other requirements and rules were met).

There was a Tax Court case in 2002 (T.C. Memo 2002-258) that addressed this issue. You would have to show that you supported your son over 50%, and as the state or federal government “paid” for his medical, room and board, etc., it would seem unlikely that you paid over 50%.

Also, money, food, clothing, etc. that is sent to a person in prison is considered a gift and, as you know, gifts are not tax deductible.

If your son was younger than 19 years-old in 2013, lived with you before the arrest, and intended to move back-in with you if not convicted, he may still qualify as your dependent. This is because the support test for a qualifying child is that the child does not provide over half of his or her own support, and, in general, temporary absences due to certain special circumstances are not considered being absent from the home. Keep in mind that he would have to meet all of the other tests to be your qualifying child.

Deductibly Yours,

Dave

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