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Dependent has multiple legal meanings. Generally, “dependent” refers to an individual who relies on support from another individual and usually cannot exist or sustain themselves independently without the aid or support of someone else. Basically, it is an individual who needs support and their support is contingent from the help of another individual. The dependent individual is sustained by the other individual. A common example of a dependent would be a child supported by their parents.

There are several types of dependents.

  • A lawful dependent is an individual who is given an allowance or some other type of public benefits, like social security
    • A lawful dependent can also mean an individual who is to be given benefits from private funds regarding laws governing a private funds’ distribution.
  • A legal dependent is an individual who relies on support from another, as depicted by the law.
    • In these instances, the individual described receives principal support from another individual and sometimes may utilize the necessary laws to enforce that support from the other individual.
  • In insurance policies, a legal dependent usually refers to all the individuals whom the person under the insurance policy is required to protect and support.
    • An example of this would be a spouse and children.
    • In contrast, a lawful dependent is an individual whom the person under the insurance policy is permitted to support, but not required to support.
  • A partial dependent refers to workers compensation and is normally a person whose necessary reliance on an employee is protected under workers'-compensation law.
    • What this means is that the support enables the individual to receive death benefits if the person they rely on is killed while working on the job.
  • Dependent can also refer to tax purposes. In these instances, a dependent would be an individual, such as a child, for whom a taxpayer (the parent) would be able to claim and list a personal tax exemption if the taxpayer provides over half of the child's support during the taxable year.
  • Dependent can sometimes not even refer to an individual. It could mean an event or some other item that is conditional upon the occurrence of some other event.
    • For example, a dependent contract would be an agreement between two parties and is referred to as dependent because it is conditional upon some other agreement.

[Last updated in October of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]