No. You can choose not to claim a qualifying child or relative as a dependent on your return by leaving them off your tax return.
Keep in mind that if you choose not to claim someone who qualifies as your dependent on your return, they won’t be able to claim themselves on their own return.
Not claiming someone as a dependent doesn’t help them earn any extra tax breaks on their own tax returns. For example, you can’t claim the following credits and benefits if you qualify as a dependent on someone else’s tax return, even if that person doesn’t claim you:
- Child and Dependent Care Credit
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
- American Opportunity Tax Credit
- Lifetime Learning Credit
- Premium Tax Credit
- Recovery Rebate Credit
What’s more, not claiming a qualifying child or relative on your tax return could prevent you from earning certain tax breaks that you might otherwise qualify for.
Example: Jo has a 19-year-old child, Alex, who they can claim as a dependent on their tax return. But Jo earns too much money to claim an education credit for Alex. Jo wants Alex to claim this credit on their own tax return, so Jo doesn’t claim Alex as a dependent. This won’t work, because Alex still qualifies to be claimed as a dependent on Jo’s return.
If both you and a qualifying dependent are filing separate tax returns this year, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re both on the same page about dependency. A qualifying dependent must indicate on their own tax return that they can be claimed as a dependent. If they don’t do this, one of you will have to paper-file your return and could be rejected.
The IRS has an Interactive Tax Assistant to help you determine who you can claim as a dependent.