How Should A Caregiving Relative Be Compensated?

It is common knowledge in our society of aging Baby Boomers that many adult children end up taking months or even years off from their lives and careers to provide care for their elderly parents. Most children do this out of love and a sense of duty, but even in the closest of parent-child relationships there may be an unspoken expectation that appreciation for the caregiving child’s time and effort may be reflected in the parent’s will or trust. After all, professional caregivers demand a salary, is it too much to expect that a relative serving as caregiver should be compensated as well?

Take as an example the case of Anthony Olivo, who this article in Forbes describes as “a tax lawyer who ended up providing nearly full-time care for his mother and father.” Anthony “worked in law firms from 1976 to 1988 and then opened his own practice. Yet by 1994, given all the time he was devoting to his parents and their health problems, he found it hard to maintain his practice. He lived with his parents and gave them round-the-clock care from 1994 through 2003, during which he earned no significant income from his law practice.”

Now Mr. Olivo is asking that the U.S. Tax Court deduct $1.24 million from the estate of his parents for fees it paid to Anthony while he was serving as caregiver. Mr. Olivo is not challenging his parents’ wishes, he is not asking for more of the estate than his parents bequeathed to him; rather, he is asking that a “salary” for caregiving be deducted from the taxable portion of his inheritance.

Unfortunately, in the absence of a legal agreement, the tax court is unable to rule in Mr. Olivo’s favor: “The court was careful to note that Anthony rendered extraordinary care and that his efforts were commendable. However, the court ruled that his mother’s estate did not establish that Anthony was entitled to that pay. There were no written agreements and scant evidence the family agreed to pay him.” Furthermore, “There was no contract and no firm evidence of how much Anthony’s services were worth.”

We sympathize with Mr. Olivo, and hope that our firm can help save our clients from ending up in a similar situation. Simply leaving the caregiving relative “a little extra” in a will or trust is not enough, we cannot stress enough the importance of a legal caregiver agreement if a family member is providing caregiver services—especially if that family member is giving up time from his or her own career to do so.

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