Most personal expenses aren't deductible. Driving or flying to see family isn't normally a write-off, even if you're doing it to help them out in a crisis. There are exceptions, which may let you deduct the cost of helping your parents. Most deductions won't let you specifically write off the travel costs, but they'll still help you save money.
If you're relocating to live next to your parents, the IRS may write off your moving costs. This requires you find a job up there and work full-time for at least 39 weeks -- not necessarily at the same job -- in the year after the move. If you're self-employed you also have to work 78 weeks over the two years post-move. Your new job has to be at least 50 miles further from your old home than your old job was -- moving across town to be close to your dad won't cut it.
Most other write-offs require that you claim your parent as a dependent. You can do this if your parent's gross income is less than the dependent's exemption -- $3,900 in 2013 -- and you pay at least half his living expenses. If you help out both parents, you calculate your contributions to each parent separately. If, say, you pay 75 percent of your father's living expenses and 25 percent of your mother's, only your father qualifies -- you can't combine them. Parents don't have to live with you to qualify.
If your parents are your dependents and you pay their medical bills, those are deductible just like bills for your spouse and children. Travel costs are deductible but only to and from medical visits, not moving up to be near them. If your parent is medically ill and your visits are medically necessary, that is deductible. To take the write-off, you add together all deductible expenses -- listed in IRS Publication 501 -- and subtract 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. You can itemize whatever is left on Schedule A.
If your parent can't care for herself and you have to leave her so you can work, you may qualify for a tax credit. The credit can wipe out as much as $1,050 in taxes, depending on your income and how much you pay for a caregiver. You can't hire your spouse or another dependent but hiring a relative who's not a dependent is acceptable. Your parent must either be your dependent, or if she's not your dependent, she'd qualify except her gross income is too high. IRS Publication 503 has the details on qualifying for the write-off.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.