WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the sandwich generation — caught between supporting elderly parents whose assets are nearly exhausted and adult children without jobs — might find some relief come tax time.
The bottom line is, who's a dependent? Your kindergarten-age son, your adult daughter, her grandparents, or maybe an elderly uncle or aunt?
"There's a changing family dynamic because of the economy," said Bob Meighan, vice president of TurboTax, an online tax preparation service.
More people are living longer. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of older Americans increased by 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, when there were about 40 million people age 65 or older. A longer lifespan puts added strain on retirement accounts, which have already taken a hit in the roller-coaster economy.
As a result, many baby boomers find themselves supporting their elderly parents, in some cases footing the bill for assisted living or nursing home care.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for adults age 20 to 24 was 13.7 percent in December, considerably higher than the overall rate of 7.8 percent.
Unable to find work, many young adults are returning home — or never leaving, relying on Mom and Dad for food, lodging and more.
What does this mean for taxes?
"A lot of filers are going to have to pay particular attention," Meighan said. More people may rely on tax software to help get them through the dependency issue.
Depending on individual circumstances, taxpayers may be able to claim both their parents and their children as dependents.
"The rules are very pro-taxpayer," said Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson-Hewitt Tax Services. If you are taking care of someone and the IRS defines that clearly — age, income, residency tests and support — you should be able to claim the exemption, he says.
It comes down to the definition of dependent.
The Internal Revenue Service makes a distinction between a qualifying child and a qualifying relative.
To be a qualifying child, the person would have to be a child, stepchild, foster child or sibling, and under the age of 19, or 24 if in college, who has lived with you for at least half the year. The taxpayer would have to provide at least half the support.
A qualifying relative can be a child who doesn't meet the qualifying child requirement, a parent or stepparent, grandparent, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle or in-laws, according to the IRS. They do not necessarily have to live with you, but you do have to provide at least half the support for that person. And that person's income cannot exceed the personal exemption — $3,800 in 2012.
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