Can You Claim Your Unborn Baby as a Dependent on Your Tax Return?

How old does a baby have to be to claim on taxes?

Mother holding a newborn baby beside a window

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When is the latest date a child can be born in the tax year to be your qualifying dependent? You might be surprised by the answer: Dec. 31.

It's possible to claim your baby as a dependent as long as they were born at any time during the tax year—even if it's 11:59 p.m. on the last day of the year. But if they wait until 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1 to arrive, you're out of luck—at least until you file that year's tax return. Because yes, your baby must be born to qualify.

You can't claim an unborn child.

A persistent rumor floats around that a baby must be at least six months old before you can claim them as a dependent. That's not true. But a lot of other rules do apply.

A Qualifying Child—the Residency Rule

Let's take a look at the overall criteria for claiming a qualifying child as a dependent. The first rule is that the child must live with you for more than half the year. This rule might seem to rule out your New Year's Eve baby, but the Internal Revenue Code makes an exception for newborns. The exception also applies when a child dies during the year.

The Internal Revenue Service states in Publication 501 that:

"A child who was born or died during the year is treated as having lived with you more than half the year if your home was the child's home the entire time he or she was alive during the year. The same is true if the child lived with you all year except for any required hospital stay following birth."

Let's read that again to capture its nuances. A child born during the year "is treated as having lived with you more than half the year" provided that the child lived with you in your home for "the entire time he or she was alive during the year...except for any required hospital stay."

In other words, your baby will meet the residency test because they will presumably have lived with you from their moment of birth. Even a stay in the hospital is considered to be living in your home.

Of course, if the child is placed in foster care or for adoption and leaves your care, that changes things. Another exception would be if his other parent immediately took custody of the baby and took them home, and you don't also live with that parent. And in this case, a whole additional batch of rules applies.

The "Tiebreaker" Rules

The IRS provides detailed criteria for who gets to claim a child as a dependent when the parents are divorced or separated. They're called "Tiebreaker Rules" because they often come into play when both parents want to claim their child. The Internal Revenue Code rule is that only one of you can do so.

These rules are something like a ladder. Parents must step from one rung to another until one of them qualifies.

The first step or requirement is that the parent with whom the child lived most during the tax year gets to claim the dependent. If a baby is born in November and immediately went home from the hospital with the other parent, that parent gets to claim the child because they lived with him the entire time they were alive.

But what if this is a gray area? What if the baby is born late on New Year's Eve so it can't be determined who they lived with the longest? In this case, the parent with the highest adjusted gross income (AGI) is entitled to claim the child as a dependent. Yes, it will come down to which of you earns more.

Of course, all these rules assume that you're not married. You can both effectively claim the child no matter when or what time he was born during the tax year if you are, and you file a joint return.

Other Tests

Your baby will also qualify as your dependent more or less by default under the remaining IRS rules for qualifying child dependents.

  • A dependent must be your son or daughter, brother or sister, or a descendant of one of these individuals. You've got this one covered if you've just given birth.
  • The child must be younger than age 19 on the last day of the tax year, or age 24 if a full-time student. Your baby qualifies here, too.
  • Finally, the child cannot have provided more than half of their financial support for the year. This rule should not be an issue unless and until child labor laws radically change.

Does It Still Matter in 2020?

You might have heard that having a dependent doesn't do you much good anymore, at least from 2018 through 2025, thanks to tax legislation passed by Congress in December 2017. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that became effective in 2018 does indeed eliminate the personal exemption that used to be available for each of your dependents.

But the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the Child and Dependent Care Credit are all still alive and well, and having a dependent is critical to qualifying for each of them.

You can qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit without a qualifying child, but the amount of your credit will be significantly less than what you could claim with one or more children.

And if you and your baby's other parent aren't married and living together, your dependent might help qualify you as head of household, an advantageous filing status.

So, yes, having a dependent is still a good thing at tax time, and yes, your newborn will qualify you if you meet these rules—even if your baby is born at the 11th hour of the year.

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501: Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Pages 12-13. Accessed May 5, 2020.

  2. IRS. "Qualifying Child Rules 1." Accessed May 5, 2020.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 501: Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information," Pages 13. Accessed May 5, 2020.

  4. IRS. "Qualifying Child of More Than One Person." Accessed May 5, 2020.

  5. IRS. "Qualifying Child Rules." Accessed May 5, 2020.

  6. IRS. "Individuals." Accessed May 5, 2020.

  7. IRS. "Publication 501 (2019), Dependents, Standard Deduction, and Filing Information." Accessed May 5, 2020.