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Two Tax Court Decisions Clarify When Long-Term Care Expenses Are Deductible

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Long-term care can be very expensive, but many long-term care expenses can be deducted from your taxes. Two important recent decisions by the U.S. Tax Court provide guidance on when caregiving services are deductible. In one decision, the court ruled that payments to non-medical caregivers are still deductible as medical expenses; in the other, the court held that a written agreement is required in order for a deceased woman’s estate to deduct more than $1 million in care that her son allegedly provided her.

In the first case, Estate of Lillian Baral (U.S. Tax Ct., No. 3618-10, July 5, 2011), Lillian Baral suffered from dementia and her doctor recommended that she get 24-hour-a-day care. Her brother hired caregivers to assist Ms. Baral with daily activities. On her tax return, Ms. Baral included a deduction for medical expenses for the payments to the caregivers. The IRS said the expenses were not deductible and asked for more money. Following Ms. Baral’s death, her estate appealed the matter to the U.S. Tax Court.

Under tax law, expenses for medical care may be claimed as an itemized deduction if they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. (Note that this threshold will rise to 10 percent of adjusted gross income in 2012.) The definition of medical expenses includes the cost of long-term care if a doctor has determined you are chronically ill. “Chronically ill” means you need help with activities like eating, going to the bathroom, bathing, and dressing, or you require substantial supervision due to a severe cognitive impairment.

The Tax Court agreed with Ms. Baral that the payments to the caregivers for assisting and supervising Ms. Baral are deductible medical expenses. The expenses qualified as long-term care services even though the caregivers were not medical personnel because a doctor had found that the services provided to Ms. Baral were necessary due to her dementia.

In the second case, Estate of Olivo v. Commissioner (U.S. Tax Ct., No. 15428-07, July 11, 2011), New Jersey resident Anthony Olivo provided nearly full-time care to his mother from 1994 to 2003, during which time he largely abandoned his practice as an attorney. After his mother died, Mr. Olivo became administrator of her estate.

Mr. Olivo filed a tax return for the estate and claimed a deduction of $1.24 million as a debt he said the estate owed him for the care he had provided his mother over the years. He claimed he had an oral agreement with his mother that after she died she would compensate him for his services. The IRS disallowed the deduction and Mr. Olivo filed a petition with the Tax Court.

The U.S. Tax Court agreed with the IRS that the estate is not entitled to the deduction. Applying the law in New Jersey, which presumes that services to a family member living in the same household are given for free (many states have similar laws), the court ruled that without a written agreement between Ms. Olivo and her son, it must assume that Mr. Olivo provided the services without any expectation he would be repaid.

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