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Category: Social Security

how do I keep money in the family? 

What Needs to Happen after a Spouse Dies?

What needs to happen after a spouse dies? Making funeral arrangements, paying medical bills and closing down accounts are just the start of the tasks that a surviving spouse must take charge of, advises the recent article “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse” from U.S. News & World Report. It can be overwhelming, especially with the intense emotions that come with such a large loss.

Having a checklist of specific tasks after a spouse dies may make this difficult time less stressful. This is because you will be able to see what has been accomplished, and what is yet to come.

Start by getting organized. Make a list of what you need to do and add to it as you think of new tasks. You should also track what you are doing, using a notebook to keep a record of who you spoke with and when. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask a family member or trusted friend. Being organized is a big help, when there are so many things that need to be done during such a hard time.

Review your spouse’s will and estate plan. Gather all the documents, from their last will and testament to insurance policies, trust paperwork and related documents. Call your estate planning attorney, since she can help you with settling the estate.

Identify the executor. If you are the executor, then you are the person in charge of managing the estate, including distributing assets. If someone else has been named, contact the person and be sure they are still willing and able to undertake the responsibilities.

Obtain original death certificates. All of the financial, legal and property matters will require an original death certificate, with a raised seal. It’s easier to have more than you need, so order ten to fifteen.

Talk with other professionals. The financial advisor, CP, and insurance broker, in addition to the estate planning attorney, will need to know that your spouse has passed. You will also need to notify the Social Security Administration. If your spouse was receiving benefits, depending upon when in the month they died, you may need to return money.

Avoid any big decisions. This is not the time to sell the house, move to another state or make any other large decisions, unless you must for financial reasons.

Carry out your spouse’s wishes. There is comfort in carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Giving money to a charity as per the will’s direction or handing a prized possession to a family member who will treasure it can be heartwarming, since it reminds you of the values that your spouse held dear.

Take time for yourself and your loved ones. Mourning and healing from loss are not easy times. Take the time to process the loss and grieve with other family members. Find comfort from those you love.

If you would like to learn more about how to handle an estate after a loved one dies, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: U.S. News & World Report (Aug. 28, 2020) “Checklist for Handling the Death of a Spouse”

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how do I keep money in the family? 

Finding The Right Elder Law Attorney

Elder law attorneys specialize in legal affairs that uniquely concern seniors and their adult children, says Explosion’s recent article entitled “The Complete Guide to Elder Law” Finding the right elder law attorney can be a big task. However, with the right tips, you can find an experienced elder law attorney who is knowledgeable, has the right connections and fits your budget.

While, technically, a general practice attorney will be able to handle your retirement, Medicaid and even your estate planning, an elder law lawyer is deeply entrenched in elder law. This means he or she will have extensive knowledge and experience to handle any case within the scope of elder law, like the following:

  • Retirement planning
  • Long-term care planning and insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Estate planning
  • Social Security
  • Veterans’ benefits; and
  • Other related areas of law.

While a general practice lawyer may be able to help you with one or two of these areas, a competent elder law lawyer knows that there’s no single formula in elder law that applies across the board. That’s why you’ll need a lawyer with a high level of specialization and understanding to handle your specific circumstances. An elder law attorney is best suited for your specific needs.

A referral from someone you trust is a great place to start. When conducting your elder law lawyer search, stay away from attorneys who charge for their services by the hour. For example, if you need an elder law attorney to work on a Medicaid issue, they should be able to give you an estimate of the charges after reviewing your case. That one-time flat fee will cover everything, including any legal costs, phone calls, meetings and court fees.

When it comes to elder law attorneys, nothing says more than experience. An experienced elder law lawyer has handled many cases similar to yours and understands how to proceed. Reviewing the lawyer’s credentials at the state bar website is a great place to start to make sure the lawyer in question is licensed. The website also has information on any previous ethical violations.

In your search for an elder law attorney, look for a good fit and a high level of comfort. Elder law is a complex area of law that requires knowledge and experience. To learn more about Elder law issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Explosion (Aug. 19, 2020) “The Complete Guide to Elder Law”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

Make the Most of Your Social Security Benefits

Famous motivational speaker Zig Zigler reportedly said “If you want to earn more, learn more.” That’s true for careers and investments. It is also true for Social Security. The more you know how it works, the more likely you’ll be able to make the most of your Social Security benefits, says the article “Social Security tips: 10 ways to get more money in benefits” from USA Today.

1—Check your Social Security work record for errors. Create an account for yourself at the “My Social Security” page on the Social Security Administration’s website. You’ll be able to see your entire income history. Check it against your tax returns to be sure that the numbers are right. If you see mistakes, call the SSA and have them fixed now.

2—Work for at least 35 years. The SSA uses a formula to calculate benefits based on 35 years of earnings (adjusted for inflation). If you’re thinking about working for 28 years, your benefits are going to be lower. If you can keep working to reach the 35-year mark, you’ll increase your benefits.

3—Boost your earnings. Bigger paychecks equal bigger benefits. If it’s too late for a career change, adding a part-time job could boost your lifetime income. You could also just work a few more years—it makes a difference. The annual statement from SSA on the website will show you just how much.

4—Wait until age 70 to start collecting. For every year after your full retirement age, your benefits grow by about 8%. If you are able to tap other sources of income before you turn 70, you can maximize this benefit.

5—You can also start collecting benefits at age 62. Your checks will be smaller, but if you have had a job loss and need the money, you are now eligible to take them. There will be many more checks now, than if you waited until age 70. If your health is poor, or your family history does not include longevity, there’s no benefit in waiting.

6—Understand how spousal benefits work. For non-working spouses, Social Security allows a spouse to collect a benefit based on their spouse’s earnings record – up to one half (50%) of the spouse’s benefits.

7—Can you delay a divorce? You might be able to collect benefits based on your former spouse’s earnings record, if you meet the requirements. You need to have been married for at least ten years. If it’s been nine years, and if your not-soon-enough ex has significantly higher earnings than you, consider delaying until the ten year mark. Not everyone can do this, but if you can, it could make a big difference.

8—Keep your income lower, while collecting Social Security. If you plan on working while collecting benefits, understand that some of your benefit dollars will be withheld. For someone who is younger than their Full Retirement Age in 2020, for every $2 earned over $18,240, $1 dollar will be deducted. If you reach Full Retirement Age in 2020, the SSA will deduct $1 for every $3 you earn above $48,500, until the month you do reach full retirement age. Be mindful of the “cost” of your working on your benefits.

9—Find out if you qualify for survivor or disability benefits. There are Social Security benefits for spouses, ex-spouses, the disabled and survivors. Other programs with benefits include Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  If your spouse dies after working long enough to qualify for Social Security, the surviving spouse and children under age 17 may also be able to collect survivor benefits.

10—Think strategically about Social Security. If your spouse has a stronger earnings history than you, they might delay collecting benefits to age 70 to maximize the size of their benefit checks. If they die before you, as a surviving spouse you may collect either their benefit amount or your own—whichever is larger.

Reference: USA Today (July 28, 2020) “Social Security tips: 10 ways to get more money in benefits”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

Legislation to Prevent Medicare Mistakes

More older workers are remaining in the workplace. In 2016, about 60% of 65-year-olds were receiving Social Security benefits, compared to 92% in 2002. Consumer advocates expect that change to result in a growing number of older people making expensive mistakes, when they enroll in basic Medicare, says the article “Bipartisan bill to prevent costly Medicare mistakes advances in the house” from CNBC.com. The hope is that the bill will make Medicare a little easier to understand. The legislation to prevent costly Medicare mistakes cleared a House committee as part of a group of bipartisan health-care bills. Next up would be a vote by the full chamber.

There’s a companion bill in the Senate, but it’s stuck in the Finance Committee. The House bill, known as the BENES Act, has several goals. One is to eliminate delays between the time that someone signs up and the time that they are covered by Medicare. Another is to offer more outreach and information about Medicare to people, as they get closer to being eligible at 65.

About 62.4 million Americans—most of whom are 65 or older—are enrolled in Medicare. Most people do end up tapping their Social Security benefits before that time, and they are automatically enrolled, but today many more people are delaying their benefits beyond that age. As a result, the expectation is that many more people are going to make expensive mistakes, when they do go to enroll in basic Medicare. That includes Part A, for hospital coverage and Part B, for outpatient care and medical equipment. There are no late-enrollment penalties for Part A but coming late to Part B can lead to a world of trouble.

The penalty for enrolling late to Part B is 10% of the standard premium for each 12-month period that the person should have been enrolled but wasn’t and worse, it can increase each year as the premium adjusts. Sixty-five-year-olds who fit into the exception category—that is, they have group health insurance at work—are allowed to delay enrolling. However, once they leave that group, they face deadlines.

Last year, as many as 764,000 people paid the Part B late-enrollment penalty, which on average pushed their premiums up by 28%. Based on the 2020 standard Part B premium, that would mean an additional $40 per month (although some pay more or less than the standard).

There is also a serious coverage delay for those who sign up during the general enrollment period (that’s January 1 to March 31), if they missed their initial signup window, which means they aren’t covered until July 1. You could sign up on January 2 and not have health coverage until July!

The legislation also requires that the Health and Human Services Secretary submit a report on how to most effectively align the early year general enrollment period for Parts A and B with the annual fall open enrollment period, which is for enrollment for different parts of Medicare: Part C Advantage Plans and Part D prescription drug plans.

Reference: CNBC.com (July 16, 2020) “Bipartisan bill to prevent costly Medicare mistakes advances in the house”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

Balancing Retirement with Special Needs Planning

Balancing retirement with special needs planning can be difficult for a family with a special needs child. Many government benefits are “means tested,” which can put financial restrictions on how much money the individual can have in their name. Careful estate and financial planning is important, advises the article “How Having A Child With Special Needs Impacts Your Retirement Planning” from Forbes.

In most instances, providing financially for children ends a year or two after college. However, for the family with a special needs family member, the financial assistance does not end. It’s also likely that the child will live with their parents well into the parent’s retirement. The family will need more money during retirement to provide for their child’s needs, including therapies, transportation and hobbies.

The family may choose to have the child live in a group home setting, but those costs are substantially higher, depending on the home and the level of care required.

Parents are often more focused on planning to care for their disabled family member and overlook their own retirement planning. It is important to find the balance between both.

Social Security planning is a bigger factor for the family with a special needs family member. If parents decide to collect their Social Security benefits, they need to map out what different scenarios could mean, including delaying when to take benefits and spend down assets.

If the disability of a child with special needs began before age 22, the child may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, generally half of the last surviving parent’s Social Security payment in retirement (in addition to what the parent receives). When that parent dies, the amount increases to three-quarters of the parent’s benefits. This must be calculated in terms of income now for the child while the parents are living and after the parents pass.

It’s critical for the parents of an individual with special needs to do a careful budget analysis of their own retirement income and what they will need to care for their child. Once they understand these numbers, they can figure out what assets and income streams will make the most sense. A professional financial advisor can be very helpful for this process.

The family may need to set up a special needs trust (SNT), which is best done with an experienced estate planning elder law attorney. Life insurance may be purchased to fund a child’s lifetime needs and be placed in the SNT.

The family will also need to address tax planning. Traditional 401(k) plans and IRA accounts are not taxed until withdrawals are taken. There have been a number of changes to the law in recent months, not the least of which is the CARES Act, which allows withdrawals to be made from retirement accounts with no extra penalties. For additional information, please read our previous post on special needs planning.

Reference: Forbes (July 1, 2020) “How Having A Child With Special Needs Impacts Your Retirement Planning”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

Needs Testing for Special Needs Planning

Public benefits for disabled individuals include health care, supplemental income, and resources, like day programs and other vital services. Some benefits are based on the individual’s disability status, but others are based on needs testing, where eligibility is determined based on financial resources, as explained in the article “Planning for loved ones with special needs” from NWTimes.com.

Needs testing is something that parents must address as part of special needs planning, in concert with their own estate planning. This ensures that the individual’s government benefits will continue, while their family has the comfort of knowing that after the parents die, their child may have access to resources to cover additional costs and maintain a quality of life they may not otherwise have.

Families must be very careful to make informed planning decisions, otherwise their loved ones may lose the benefits they rely upon.

A variety of special planning tools may be used, and the importance of skilled help from an elder law estate planning attorney cannot be overstated.

One family received a “re-determination” letter from the Social Security Administration. This is the process whereby the SSA scrutinizes a person’s eligibility for benefits, based on their possible access to other non-governmental resources. Once the process begins, the potential exists for a disabled person to lose benefits or be required to pay back benefits if they were deemed to have wrongfully received them.

In this case, a woman who lived in California, engaged in a periodic phone call with California Medicaid. California is known for aggressively pursuing on-going benefits eligibility. The woman mentioned a trust that had been created as a result of estate planning done by her late father. The brief mention was enough to spark an in-depth review of planning. The SSA requested no less than 15 different items, including estate documents, account history and a review of all disbursements for the last two years.

The process has created a tremendous amount of stress for the woman and for her family. The re-determination will also create expenses, as the attorney who drafted the original trust in Indiana, where the father lived, will need to work with a special needs attorney in California, who is knowledgeable about the process in the state.

Similar to estate planning, the special needs planning process required by Medicaid and the SSA is a constantly evolving process, and not a “one-and-done” transaction. Special needs and estate planning documents created as recently as three or four years ago should be reviewed.

Reference: NWTimes.com (June 21, 2020) “Planning for loved ones with special needs”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

What Must Be Done when a Loved One Dies?

What must be done when a loved one dies? When a member of a family dies, it falls to the people left behind to pick up the pieces. Someone has to find out if the person left a last will, get the bills paid, stop Social Security or other automatic payments and file final tax returns. This is a hard time, but these tasks are among many that need to be done, according to the article “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die” from Business Insider.

This year, more families than usual are faced with the challenge of taking care of the business of a loved one’s life while grieving a loss. When death comes suddenly, there isn’t always time to prepare.

The first step is to determine who will be in charge. If there is a will, then it contains the name of the person selected to be the executor. When a married person dies, usually the surviving spouse has been named as the executor. Otherwise, the family will need to work together to pick one person, usually the one who lives closest to the person who died. That person may need to keep an eye on the house and obtain documents, so proximity is a plus. In a perfect world, the person would have an estate plan, so these decisions would have been made in advance.

Don’t procrastinate. It is hard, but time is an issue. After the funeral and mourning period, it’s time to get to work. Obtain death certificates, and make sure to get enough certified copies—most people get ten or twelve. They’ll be needed for banks, brokerage houses and utility service providers. You’ll also need death certificates for taking control of some digital assets, like the person’s Facebook page.

The first agency to notify is Social Security. If there are other recurring payments, like VA benefits or a pension, those organizations also need to be notified. Contact banks, insurance companie, and financial advisors.

Get the person’s credit cards into your possession and call the credit card companies immediately. Fraud on the deceased is common. Scammers look at death notices and then go onto the dark web to find the person’s Social Security number, credit card and other personal identification info. The sooner the cards are shut down, the better.

Physical assets need to be secured. Locks on a house may be changed to prevent relatives or strangers from walking into the house and taking out property. Remove any possessions that are of value, both sentimental or financial. You should also take a complete inventory of what is in the house. Take pictures of everything and be prepared to keep the house well-maintained. If there are tenants or housemates, make arrangements to get them out of the house as soon as possible.

Accounts with beneficiaries are distributed directly to those beneficiaries, like payable-on-death (POD) accounts, 401(k)s, joint bank accounts and real property held in joint tenancy. The executor’s role is to notify the institutions of the death, but not to distribute funds to beneficiaries.

The executor must also file a final tax return. The final federal tax return is due on April 15 of the year after death. Any taxes that weren’t filed for any prior years, also need to be completed.

This is a big job, which is made harder by grief. Your estate planning attorney may have some suggestions for who might be qualified to help you. An attorney or a fiduciary will take a fee, either based on an hourly rate for services performed or a percentage of the entire value of the estate. If no one in the family is able to manage the tasks, it may be worth the investment.

Reference: Business Insider (May 2, 2020) “How to manage a loved one’s finances after they die”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

Naming an Advance Designee for Social Security

For many years, people have had the right to designate an agent to handle a number of different legal, business and medical matters. That includes finances, medical decisions, wills and even funerals. What Americans have not been able to do until now, says the article “Social Security and you: New Advance Designation for Representative Payee” from The Dallas Morning News, is designate an agent to handle Social Security benefits.

As of April 6, 2020, the Social Security Administration announced that there is a new option that lets a recipient make an Advance Designation that names a person to serve as your “representative payee.” This is a really big deal, but it hasn’t received too many headlines.

Maybe that’s because under this law, anyone could apply to be a representative payee, receiving someone else’s Social Security payment and using it to pay the recipient’s living expenses. There’s a lot of room for abuse.

The best way forward? Make a decision and name a person while you have capacity. The Advance Designation option is only available to “capable” adults and emancipated minors who are applying for or receiving Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Special Veterans Benefits.

A Social Security recipient can name as many as three people, who could serve as a representative payee if the need arises. There’s a lot of flexibility: you can withdraw your choices, change the order of the three people and name new people at any time. Just in case anyone forgets who they named, Social Security is going to send a notice each year, listing advance designees for review.

How will it work? When the SSA believes a person needs help managing benefits, they will contact the advance designees. The SSA reserves the right to discard your choices and make its own appointment.

How do you make the designation? Go online to the SSA website, especially now when phone, in-person and in writing are all either backlogged or not possible to do right now. After you’ve created and successfully logged into the mysocialsecurity website, you’ll see a box titled “Advance Designation of Representative Payee.” It will be towards the bottom of the page. You’ll need the name, phone number and a description of the relationship you have with the person.

Who should you name? The SSA prefers family members, friends or qualified organizations. Your choices should be made carefully. The people you name need to be trustworthy, good with finances, organized and have no prior felonies. They will need to be able to maintain good records and receipts and be available and responsive, if the SSA requests an audit or an in-person visit.

When should you do this? How about now? Like having a will and an estate plan, this is not something that you should put off. And as you are likely at home, there’s no reason not to!

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (April 19, 2020) “Social Security and you: New Advance Designation for Representative Payee”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

Would an Early Retirement and Early Social Security Be Smart?

For older employees who are laid off as a result of the pandemic, the idea of an early retirement and taking Social Security benefits early may seem like the best or only way forward. However, cautions Forbes in the article “Should You Take Social Security Earlier Than Planned If You’re Laid Off Due to COVID-19?,” this could be a big mistake with long-term repercussions.

In the recession that began in 2008, there were very few jobs for older workers. As a result, many had no choice but to take Social Security early. The problem is that taking benefits early means a smaller benefit.

In 2009, one year after the market took a nosedive, as many as 42.4 percent of 62-year-olds signed up for Social Security benefits. By comparison, in 2008, the number of 62-year-olds who took Social Security benefits was 37.6 percent.

You can start taking Social Security early and then stop it later. However, there are other options for those who are strapped for cash.

There is a new tool from the IRS that allows taxpayers to update their direct deposit information to get their stimulus payment faster and track when to expect it. There is also a separate tool for non-tax filers.

Apply for unemployment insurance. Yes, the online system is coping with huge demand, so it is going to take more than a little effort and patience. However, unemployment insurance is there for this very same purpose. Part of the economic stimulus package extends benefits to gig workers, freelancers and the self-employed, who are not usually eligible for unemployment.

Consider asking a family member for a loan, or a gift. Any individual is allowed to give someone else up to $15,000 a year with no tax consequences. Gifts that are larger require a gift tax return, but no tax is due. The amount is simply counted against the amount that any one person can give tax free during their lifetime. That amount is now over $11 million. By law, you can accept a loan from a family member up to $10,000 with no paperwork. After that amount, you’ll need a written loan agreement that states that interest will be charged – at least the minimum AFR—Applicable Federal Rate. An estate planning attorney can help you with this.

Tap retirement accounts—gently. The stimulus package eases the rules around retirement account loans and withdrawals for people who have been impacted by the COVID-19 downturn. The 10% penalty for early withdrawals before age 59½ has been waived for 2020.

If you must take Social Security, you can do so starting at age 62. In normal times, the advice is to tap retirement accounts before taking Social Security, so that your benefits can continue to grow. The return on Social Security continues to be higher than equities, so this is still good advice.

Reference: Forbes (April 15, 2020) “Should You Take Social Security Earlier Than Planned If You’re Laid Off Due to COVID-19?”

 

how do I keep money in the family? 

What are the Blind Spots in Social Security?

The SimplyWise survey also found that there are five areas that are especially confusing to people., Only one in 300 of those who took a five-question quiz answered all the questions correctly, reports Think Advisor in the article entitled “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security.”

Here are some Social Security questions that might be relevant and not knowing the answers could cost you thousands of dollars a year in income.

  1. What age do I claim to maximize my monthly earned Social Security benefit? The age is 70, although 62 years is when an individual can first make a claim. However, your benefits grow each year you wait—up to age 70. According to SimplyWise, only 42% of quiz takers got this answer right.
  2. What’s the earliest age non-disabled people can get survivor benefits? A mere 9% answered this correctly. It’s age 60. Many think it is age 62, the age people can begin claiming Social Security.That is correct for earned benefits and spousal benefits.
  3. Is a current spouse required to be getting Social Security benefits, for the other spouse to qualify for spousal benefits? Yes. Just 20% of respondents got this answer correct. It is important to understand that if both spouses are claiming Social Security, one can either receive their own benefit or 50% of their spouse’s amount, whichever is more.
  4. Is a divorced spouse able to get survivor benefits? Yes, and just 38% of people got this answer right. The criteria is somewhat different than for married people. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and there are certain rules that apply to remarrying. However, divorced spouses can collect survivor benefits under a deceased ex-spouse.
  5. Can divorced spouses get spousal benefits? Yes, and 67% got this answer correct. Divorced spouses who were married for at least 10 years and haven’t remarried can claim spousal benefits.

Reference: Think Advisor (Feb. 13, 2020) “5 Common Blind Spots on Social Security”