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Caregivers Can Get Paid

How to get financial help for taking care of Mom, Dad

Long-term care insurance

Check your parents' long-term care insurance policy. Some plans, although not many, offer a cash benefit that allows the policyholder to spend a certain amount of money each month on in-home assistance, says Gleckman. "These policies are very expensive, and most carriers won't even sell them because the possibility for fraud is so high," says Gleckman. "But there are a few policies out there that do this."

Dependent tax exemptions

If you are caring for a relative but none of the direct pay options fits your situation, consider whether you qualify for claiming your parent as a dependent on your income tax return. Your parent doesn't need to live with you, says Melissa Labant, technical manager of the American Institute of CPAs. But you do have to provide more than 50 percent of Mom or Dad's basic living expenses, including housing, food, clothing and other necessities. "So perhaps they have their own apartment, but you pay the rent," says Labant. "Or they can be living in assisted living, and you help pay for that."

The exemption is the same as what you'd get for one of your kids: $3,700 for the 2011 tax year for each care recipient. But here's the caveat: Your parent's earnings, excluding Social Security, cannot exceed the deduction amount, in this case $3,700. So if your mom's pension or investment income totals more than that amount, you cannot claim your parent.

If you are not married and your parent qualifies as a dependent, you can also save on your taxes by filing as head of household. "It's a more favorable tax filing status than single and makes people eligible for lower tax rates, more credits and sometimes more tax breaks," says Labant.

Deductible medical expenses

Did you pay to build a wheelchair ramp on your parents' home? Do you use your vehicle to drive them to medical appointments? These costs are deductible on your return, says Labant, as long as the cost exceeds 7.5 percent (for 2011) of your gross adjusted income. (That bar rises to 10 percent in 2013.) This is the case even if your parents don't qualify as dependents, as long as you are paying more than 50 percent of their medical fees.

Also of interest: Balancing work and caregiving. >>

Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families. She is based in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.

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