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Deductions for Taxpayers and Families With Special Needs

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APRIL 5, 2010  VOLUME 17, NUMBER 11

Tax time is upon us yet again — just like last year and the year before. Funny how it rolls around every twelve months. OK — “funny” might not be the best word.

There is a certain irony in describing the tax deductions available to families raising or caring for a child with special needs. What families usually need is help (both financial and otherwise), and tax deductions may not provide much help for the family with income limited by the need to provide care for their child. Still, some deductions may be useful and many often go unclaimed; perhaps we can alert you to one or more you should consider while preparing or filing your own tax returns.

Claiming a dependent. Are you providing more than half the financial support for a person with a disability? You may be able to claim them as a dependent on your tax return. Of course, that means no one else can claim them as a dependent — including themselves.

Medical deductions. Remember that medical deductions are only useful on your federal income tax return to the extent that they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Let’s use real numbers: if your income is about the national median this year, you will report something like $45,000 to $50,000 of income. In that case the first $3,500 (or so) of medical expenses you incur will not affect your tax return at all.

With that in mind, there are still expenses you should track. You might find that the 7.5% limit is easier to reach than you thought. You might also live in a state that does not apply the limitation (Arizona, for instance), so that medical expenses should be tracked.

What medical deductions most often get overlooked? Expenses for special schools might be deductible as a medical expense — if a medical professional has signed a recommendation. Tutoring, specialized books and software, evaluations and transportation might also be includible. Sometimes even special summer programs, residential schools — even disability-focused conferences — may be deductible as a medical expense.

Child and Dependent Care Credit. This one is not a deduction, but a credit — and that makes it valuable even for those who might not have enough medical expenses to deduct them. The credit is available to parents who have to pay caretakers in order to work (and earn income). The amount of the credit: up to 35% of the care costs incurred. See IRS Publication 503 for more information.

There are also other deductions and credits you might be overlooking. We were recently interviewed for a television report that indicated up to 30% of families with special needs children may failed to claim tax benefits due to them.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.