Dear Savvy Senior: Do you know of any resources that help family caregivers monetarily?
I have to miss a lot of work to take care of my elderly mother and it’s financially stressing me.
— Stretched Thin
Dear Stretched: Caring for an elder parent can be challenging in many ways, but it can be especially difficult financially if you have to miss work or quit your job. There are government programs, tax breaks and other tips that may help you.
Here are some options:
>> State assistance: Most states have programs that help low-income seniors pay for in-home care services, including paying family members for care. These programs — which go by names like “cash and counseling” or “consumer-directed”— vary greatly depending on where you live. Contact your local Medicaid office.
>> Veterans benefits: Veterans who need assistance with daily-living activities can enroll in the Veteran-Directed Care program. This program, available through VA Medical Centers in 40 states, provides as much as $2,000 a month, which can be used to pay family members for home care. Search “Home and Community Based Services” at VA.gov/geriatrics.
Also available to wartime veterans and their surviving spouses is a benefit called Aid and Attendance, which helps pay for in-home care, as well as assisted-living and nursing home care. This benefit can be used to pay family caregivers. To be eligible your mother must need assistance with daily-living activities like bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom. A surviving spouse’s annual income must be under $14,133 or $21,962 for a single veteran, after medical expenses. Her assets must also be less than $80,000 excluding her home and car. Visit Vets.gov/pension.
>> Tax breaks: If you pay at least half of your mom’s yearly expenses, and her gross income is below $4,050 (in 2017) not counting her Social Security or disability, you can claim her as a dependent on your taxes and get a $500 tax credit. Visit IRS.gov/help/ita and click on “Whom May I Claim as a Dependent?”
If you can’t claim her as a dependent, you may still be able to get a tax break if you’re paying more than half her living expenses including medical and long-term care costs, and they exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income. Include your own medical expenses in calculating the total. See IRS publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf) for details.
>> Long-term care insurance: If your mother has long-term care insurance, check whether it covers in-home care. Some policies permit family members to be paid, although they may exclude people who live in the same household.
>> Family funds: If your mother has some savings or other assets, discuss the possibility of her paying you for the care you provide. If she agrees, consult with an elder law attorney about drafting a short-written contract that details the terms of the work and payment arrangements.
Check BenefitsCheckup.org, a free, confidential Web tool that can help you search for financial assistance programs.
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.