What is a Qualifying Relative?

A qualifying relative is a person a taxpayer can claim as a dependent.

How Does a Qualifying Relative Work?

For example, let's assume that John and Jane Doe took in Jane's mother because she ran out of retirement money and can no longer support herself. They feed and clothe her, take her to doctor's appointments, and provide for virtually all of her needs. John and Jane can claim Jane's mother as a qualifying relative, thereby claiming her as a dependent and lowering their tax bill for the year.

According to the IRS, a taxpayer can claim a qualifying relative if the relative is:

  1. Not a qualifying child (i.e., their own child).
  2. Living in the taxpayer's household (though children, siblings, step-siblings, parents, grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, foster children, certain in-laws, and certain step-relatives are not required to live in the household). Cousins must live in the household.
  3. Earning gross income of less than a particular threshold determined by the IRS (around $3,700, but varies by year).
  4. Receiving at least half of his/her support for the year from the taxpayer.

Special rules apply for handicapped dependents, children in other countries, and students.

Why Does a Qualifying Relative Matter?

Claiming a qualifying relative lowers a taxpayer's tax burden because the taxpayer can take an exemption for the dependent.