Since years 2015 through 2019 are now closed tax years, you cannot receive any refund you were due for any of these years. BUT you can still amend your 2015 through 2019 taxes and claim the credit in order to carry any remaining benefit of the credit forward to 2020 and later open tax years. Any amount you would have received with your 2015 through 2019 taxes will be lost to you.

Claiming the Federal Adoption Tax Credit for Closed Tax Years

Updated October 2023

(If you finalized your adoption in a year after 2019, please read the appropriate fact sheet using the links on the right or below.)

Did you adopt a child in 2015 or up through 2019? If you haven’t claimed the adoption tax credit for a 2015 through 2019 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 2015 through 2019, you can carry any excess forward for five additional years (or until the credit is fully used, whichever comes first).

Because 2015 through 2019 are now closed tax years, you cannot get anything you were due for any of the years. However, you can still amend your 2015 through 2019 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 2015 through 2019 taxes, will be lost to you.

To claim the adoption tax credit for an adoption finalized in the years 2015 to 2019, 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 2015 through 2019, 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 2020. If you use up the credit prior to 2020 tax return, then you should not file your amendments as you will not receive any refunds for those earlier (closed) years.

To amend a 2020 return, you must file by April 14, 2024 unless you filed for an extension for your 2020 return, then you have three years from the filing date. If you will be due a refund for your amended 2020 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 carry forward disappears and is not available in year seven. For example, for an adoption finalized in 2015, the sixth and final year to use that credit is 2020, any credit carry forward from 2020 (for a 2015 adoption) will not be available for 2021. If the adoption was finalized in 2017, then the credit can carry forward into 2021 and 2022 (if not used up before then).

Form 8839 and its instructions are available at irs.gov.  Form 1040X and the instructions can be found here, note 1040X doesn’t have a specific year for the form.