can you claim someone in prison on your taxes

Can You Claim Someone In Prison on Your Taxes?

When I was in prison, I was lucky enough to have family and friends who sent me money regularly. If you are sending money to an inmate, please know that you are loved and appreciated. Having someone put money on your books is a big deal.

Inmates are responsible for buying their own hygiene items, and if they want to communicate with people on the outside, they have to buy phone time, paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps.

If an inmate needs extra clothes or shoes, they must buy those things, too. And to help pass the time, they can also buy electronics like a TV or a CD Player. The prison commissary also sells food, beverages, and OTC medications, so when you have people on the outside sending you money, it is an absolute blessing.

If your loved one is in prison for just a few months, you might also be paying their car payment and car insurance. Or, maybe you paid for their attorneys fees?

If you are sending a good chunk of money to an inmate on a regular basis and are paying their bills, you must be able to claim them on your taxes, right? After all, you are supporting them and they are depending on you for their income. Today, I’m going to answer the question: Can you claim someone in prison on your taxes?

In this blog post, I will cover:

  • Is an inmate considered a dependent?
  • Can you claim a juvenile inmate as a dependent?

Is an inmate considered a dependent?

Unfortunately, an inmate is not considered a dependentㄧeven if they are your son or daughterㄧso you can’t claim them on your taxes. Any money you send to your inmate is considered a gift, so that’s not even tax deductible.

Someone who is incarcerated is considered a ward of the state, and they are being supported by the institution. The facility provides room, board, and medical care, so any money you send won’t meet the 50% support requirement to be able to claim them as a dependent, even if you are paying their bills on the outside.

Can you claim a juvenile inmate as a dependent?

If you have a child under 18 who is an inmate at a juvenile detention center or prison, you are not allowed to claim them as a dependent if they are serving a long-term sentence. However, if their term of incarceration is less than six months, and they lived with you for more than half the year, your child may be considered a dependent under qualified children rules.

Qualified children rules:

  • You must be able to demonstrate that your child lived with you for more than half the year
  • You must also be able to prove that your child didn’t provide more than half of their own support

Neither tax law nor IRS instructions mention an incarcerated dependent, so these qualified child rules come from a 2002 tax court case and the updated definition of “dependent” in recent tax laws.

It can be incredibly expensive to take care of a loved one who is behind bars, but the federal government considers your contributions a gift, not financial support. However, even if they did consider it support, it still wouldn’t be enough to compete with the cost of room, board, and medical care. So, you wouldn’t be able to prove you were giving more than 50 percent of their financial support.

Please don’t let this information keep you from sending money to your incarcerated loved one. The money is always needed, and greatly appreciated.

Do you regularly send money to an inmate? Let us know in the comments below.


Can you claim a prison inmate as a dependent?

Tax Deduction for Sending Money to a Child in Prison

About the Author Natalie

Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.