If you're supporting an elderly parent, you may qualify for some tax relief – if you pass Uncle Sam's tax test. Here's what you should know:
If you're supporting an elderly parent, you'll need to claim the parent as a dependent on your tax return in order to qualify for a tax credit.
To qualify as a dependent, your parent's 2007 income must be less than $3,400. Her income from Social Security does not count towards that total (disability payments don't count either). But if your parent receives more than $3,400 from other sources, such as pension benefits, interest and dividends from investments, or withdrawals from retirement savings plans, you can't claim him or her as a dependent.
Note: Your parent doesn't have to live with you to qualify as a dependent, as long as she meets the income test and you provide more than half her financial support.
If your mother lives with you, you can include a percentage of your mortgage, utilities and other expenses in calculating how much you contribute to her support. IRS Publication 501 has a worksheet that can help you with this.
If you share the financial responsibility for your mother with other siblings, you may be eligible for the IRS multiple-support declaration.
Here's how it works. If one sibling is providing more than half the parent's financial support, only that sibling can claim the parent. But if each sibling provides less than 50 percent support, but their combined assistance exceeds half the parent's support.
In that case, any sibling who provides more than 10 percent can claim the parent as a dependent. But only one sibling can claim the tax break in any given year. Siblings can rotate the tax break, with one claiming the parent one year and another the next. The sibling who claims the parent as a dependent will need to fill out IRS Form 2120 and file it with his or her tax return.
If you can't claim your mom as a dependent, you may still get a tax break for helping pay her medical costs. The IRS lets taxpayers deduct money spent on a parent's health care and qualified long-term care services, even if the parent doesn't qualify as a dependent.
To claim this deduction, you still must provide more than half your mom's support, but your mom doesn't have to meet the income test. And the deduction is limited to medical, dental and long-term care expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. You can include your own medical expenses in calculating the total. See the IRS publication 502 "Medical and Dental Expenses," for details.
Savvy Tips: You can access, download and print any of the IRS publications and forms mentioned in this column at www.irs.gov. Or call 800-829-3676 and they will mail them to you.
And for help preparing your taxes, don't forget about AARP's Tax-Aide program. A free tax preparation and counseling service available to all taxpayers, middle and low income, with special attention to those 60 years and older – and you don't have to be an AARP member to get help. To locate a Tax-Aide site near you, call 888-227-7669.