Since years 2012 through 2016 are now closed tax years, you cannot receive any refund you were due for any of these years. BUT you can still amend your 2012 through 2016 taxes and claim the credit in order to carry any remaining benefit of the credit forward to 2017 and later open tax years. Any amount you would have received with your 2012 through 2016 taxes will be lost to you.

Claiming the Federal Adoption Tax Credit for 2012 through 2016

Updated March 2021

(If you finalized your adoption in a year after 2016, please read the appropriate fact sheet using the links on the right or below.)

Did you adopt a child in 2012 or up through 2016? If you haven’t claimed the adoption tax credit for a 2012 through 2016 adoption, you may lose some or all of what you were due. If you did not have enough federal income tax liability to use the whole adoption credit in 2012 through 2016, you can carry any excess forward for five additional years (or until the credit is fully used, whichever comes first).

Because 2012 through 2016 are now closed tax years, you cannot get anything you were due for any of the years. However, you can still amend your 2012 through 2016 taxes and claim the credit in order to calculate the amount that would be carried forward to future years that are still open. Any amount you would have received with your 2012 through 2016 taxes, will be lost to you.

To claim the adoption tax credit for an adoption finalized in the years 2012 to 2016, you will need to start by filing for the adoption tax credit in the year you finalized the adoption. To file for the credit if you already filed taxes, you will need to amend your tax return for that year which will require a Form 1040X and Form 8839. Most families will also need to fill out the Child Tax Credit Worksheet in Publication 972 as well as Form/Schedule 8812 if they were claiming the Child Tax Credit and the Adoption Tax Credit in the same year.  

Once you have completed the amended return for the year you adopted, you will then proceed to amend the next year’s return to carry forward any unused adoption tax credit. If the next year is 2013 through 2016, you will still not get a refund for any amount that you use that next year. Continue to amend next year’s return until you either have used up the adoption tax credit, or you reach 2017. If you use up the credit prior to 2017 tax return, then you should not file your amendments as you will not receive any refunds for those earlier (closed) years.

To amend a 2017 return, you must file by April 15, 2021 unless you filed for an extension for your 2017 return, then you have three years from the filing date. If you will be due a refund for your amended 2017 return, we highly recommend that you mail it certified mail with a return receipt.  

The adoption tax credit is only available for a total of six years, the year claimed and up to five additional years.  If you are unable to use up all of the adoption tax credit in those six years, the remaining carryforward disappears and is not available in year seven. For example, for an adoption finalized in 2012, the sixth and final year to use that credit is 2017, any credit carryforward from 2017 (for a 2012 adoption) will not be available for 2018. If the adoption was finalized in 2014, then the credit can carry forward into 2018 and 2019 (if not used up before then).   

Form 8839 and its instructions are available at irs.gov and in the tax forms section of our web site.  Form 1040X and the instructions can be found here, note 1040X doesn’t have a specific year for the form.  

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The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) supports, educates, inspires, and advocates so adoptive families thrive and every child in foster care has a permanent, safe, loving family.

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