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Easing Burden On Caregivers

• Lowering kitchen cabinets.

• Landscaping to provide easier access.

If you plan on claiming the dependency exemption for an elderly parent, you must jump high hurdles, and you should read IRS Publication 501. For instance, as with the medical-expense deduction, you must be providing more than half of your parent's support, Weisman said.

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Most important, the parent's taxable gross income cannot exceed $3,050, Serio said.

Keep in mind that the code refers to "taxable" income, which means if your parent receives Social Security or other income that is not taxed, you may still be able to claim the exemption.

Now, what if you and your siblings together are paying more than half of Dad's living expenses?

There's still an opportunity for one of you to claim him as a dependent or deduct medical expenses, Weisman points out. Children who each separately provide more than 10 percent of a parent's support and more than 50 percent together can agree to allow one of the siblings to claim the father as a dependent or take the medical-expense deductions by signing a multiple support agreement, Weisman said.

"It's just so darn expensive to care for a parent, so if there is a possibility of the tax laws being utilized for your benefit, it's a real shame not to do so," he said.

You will have to get IRS Form 2120, "Multiple Support Declaration," and attach it to the income tax return. Only one person can claim the parent as a dependent or take the deductions each year. However, you can alternate from year to year. The children who agree to allow a sibling to take the deductions have to sign off on Form 2120.

For more information on which deductions you may be entitled to, get Publication 502, "Medical and Dental Expenses," and Publication 554, "Older Americans' Tax Guide." Both are available at www.irs.gov or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (829-3676). You can also get Form 2120 and Publication 501 by going to the IRS Web site.

Of course, you'll probably need a professional to help you decipher the IRS publications. But at least make the effort to understand and take the deductions you deserve.

Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org. Readers can write to her in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071, or send e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com.

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