What to Do If Someone Claimed Your Dependent

You may have tried to file your tax return and got an e-file rejection message.

Something like: “A dependent on your return has already been claimed (or claimed themselves) on another return.”

Assuming you entered your dependent’s information correctly, it looks like someone else claimed your dependent. Because the IRS processes the first return it receives, if another person claims your dependent first, the IRS will reject your return.

The IRS won’t tell you who claimed your dependent. Usually, you can identify the possibilities and ask (commonly, a former spouse). But if you don’t suspect anyone who could have claimed the dependent, your dependent may be a victim of tax identity theft. Learn how to handle tax identity theft.

If you don’t think that the other person was eligible to claim your dependent, you’ll need to take some steps to protect your right to claim the dependent and your refund.

Here’s what to do

Don’t panic. This doesn’t mean that you can’t correct the situation. First, double check that you meet all of the requirements to claim the dependent. Then, take these steps:

1. File a paper return.

Print out and mail your return, claiming your dependent, to the IRS. The IRS may delay your refund while the IRS looks into the issue, but you should still receive your refund. Note that when you file a paper return, it can take six to eight weeks for the IRS to process.

2. Document your case.

The IRS rules for claiming a dependent can get complicated.

The most important thing to remember is to prove with proper documentation that you are entitled to claim the dependent. This includes things like birth certificates and proof of identity, but also documents that show that your dependent lived with you at the same address for more than half of the year.

Examples are:

  • School, medical, daycare, or social service records
  • A letter on official letterhead from a school, medical provider, social service agency, or place of worship that shows names, common address and dates

The IRS will ask you to complete this document.

3. Answer when the IRS contacts you.

About two months after you file a paper return, the IRS will begin to determine who is entitled to claim the dependent.

You may receive a letter (CP87A) from the IRS, stating that your child was claimed on another return. It will tell you that if you made a mistake, to file an amended return, and if you didn’t make a mistake, do nothing.

The other person who claimed the dependent will get the same letter. If one of you doesn’t file an amended return that removes the child-related benefits, then the IRS will audit you and/or the other person to determine who can claim the dependent.

You’ll get a letter in a few months to begin the audit. In the audit, the IRS will require you to provide proof that you are entitled to claim the dependent. Be sure to reply completely and by the IRS deadline. After the IRS decides the issue, the IRS will charge (or, “assess”) any additional taxes, penalties, and interest on the person who incorrectly claimed the dependent.

You can appeal the decision if you don’t agree with the outcome, or you can take your case to U.S. Tax Court.

It’s always a good idea to discuss claiming children with your family members before a situation like this arises, if possible.

For any dependent dispute, know your options and your rights

Dependent disputes can cause many types of tax problems. Learn more about how to handle an IRS audit – or what to do about tax refund holds and other tax return problems resulting from dependent-related credits.

And for any IRS issue, remember that you have the right to representation. You can outsource the work to a tax pro, who can look into the cause of the issue and deal with the IRS for you.

Learn about H&R Block’s Tax Audit & Notice Services. Or make an appointment for a free consultation with a local tax professional by calling 855-536-6504 or finding a local tax pro.

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