Putting off today what you can put off tomorrow
Pay yourself first

Despicable dementia scam defrauds IRS

Yul_king_2_2 We all complain about taxes. They're too complicated. They're unfair. We don't want our tax dollars going to programs that we're philosophically, politically or morally opposed to.

As Yul Brynner would say, etc. etc. etc.

Fine, whine and moan all you want. And by all means take all the available legal tax breaks you qualify for in order to lessen the annual IRS hit to your bank balance.

Some folks, however, step over the legal tax line.

In fact, pushing the tax envelope is an annual enterprise this time of year. A couple of weeks ago, almost half of Don’t Mess With Taxes readers who participated in a poll about cheating (#2, results in the bottom left column) indicated, either explicitly or implicitly, that they had been less than truthful on a past 1040.

Now cheating is like being pregnant; there's not really a "little" in either instance. But some schemes are just beyond the pale.

Like this guy, an Austin-area accountant who reportedly claimed dementia and received disability checks for his faked condition. Meanwhile, he was working regular jobs and allegedly funneling money into shell companies he established and used to build a house, put in a swimming pool and buy a car and a boat.

Dementia, for heaven's sake! Have you seen how devastating this illness is? I have. I had a great-aunt who succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer's at a much-too-young age, although there is never an acceptable time of life for this disease to strike.

Ruth was my grandmother's youngest sister, a lively, lovely woman who lived in the even tinier West Texas town just down the road from where I grew up. We saw her and her family all the time.

During the holidays, when the whole brood showed up to eat my grandmother's cooking and catch up with one another, my cousins Kathy and Terri Linn and I would occasionally spend a night at Ruth's house. It was fun for us to get away from our parents (and a temporary separation probably welcomed by them, too!) and Ruth, who was raising two boys, enjoyed having silly, young, giggling girls wreaking havoc in her house for a change.

As I got older, went to college and then married and moved halfway across the country, I naturally didn't see Ruth that much. The last time was for a long overdue family get together, my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. Ruth, of course, was there. But she wasn't. At least not the Ruth I grew up knowing.

That particular day she was reliving a youth I knew nothing about, sneaking cigarettes and talking about (and, to her way of thinking, to) people I never met. My great-uncle and second cousins did their best to occupy her, but she wanted none of that. On that day, they and the rest of us extended family members were beyond persona non grata. We simply didn't exist in her world.

Alzheimer's eventually took Ruth completely away from us much, much too soon. And to this day I try not to make jokes about "going senile" because I've seen, albeit very briefly, how sad and unfair a condition it is.

Law enforcement officials aren't saying how they found out about this despicable tax dodge, but I like to think that some decent person discovered it and immediately alerted authorities.

Maintainbrain_2 Alzheimer's alert: Tax time might inadvertently help some families discover that an aging relative needs treatment for the debilitating condition.

In this Houston Chronicle story, Melanie Markley reports that tax filing season is "a good time to reach out to elderly family members who may be in the early stages of the dread disease."

An Alzheimer's Association spokesman says that managing finances is often one of the earliest skills to be compromised by the disease. And while it's never a good time to learn that the illness has affected a loved one, by discovering it earlier, you will be able to get treatment sooner.

You also could help your family member avoid subsequent tax troubles that might result from mistakes that, because of the illness, they made on their returns.

Today's Tax Tip: It's too late to make a difference on your soon-due 2005 taxes, but you can contribute to the Alzheimer's Association or the Yul Brynner Foundation for cancer research or any other IRS-sanctioned philanthropic group and deduct the gift on next year's return.

You can confirm the tax status of an organization by using the interactive search engines provided by the IRS here, as well as at GuideStar.

Some care costs of an ailing relative also might provide additional tax deductions. The Alzheimer's Association has put together this pamphlet on taxes and some costs associated with the disease. And you can read in this story about whether you might be able to claim your parent or other relative as a dependent and claim associated tax breaks.

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