Elder Law, Elder Living

Important Considerations Before Turning 65

In order to make the most of your estate and government benefits, several factors need to be addressed before turning 65 years old. Overall, the most crucial thing to do before turning 65 is to invest your time wisely crafting the best approach possible for your health and financial security well-being. 

Can you afford to retire? Are you married? Estimate your total annual spending, including a cushion for periodic or unforeseen expenses like home repairs or dental work. Total all of your potential retirement-income sources and understand the tax implications associated with their spending. Run through several scenarios where you change what year you claim social security benefits to see if you should defer collecting it to a later age. Be realistic and start adhering to a modest budget today. Very few Americans can withdraw a lot from personal savings and investments without risking running out of money too soon. As you start to gather your assessments in general about how you view your retirement, find a qualified retirement planning expert that can help you with projections that are based on realistic assumptions.

Familiarize yourself with Medicare and its associated program variations. If you are retiring, you will approach Medicare differently than if you continue to work and have health care available through your employer. If you no longer will have health care through an employer, learn about Medigap supplemental insurance policies as Medicare will not cover all of your health care. Health insurance becomes quite complicated and varies widely depending on your overall health and personal financial situation. The National Council on Aging (NCOA), in partnership with private companies Aon Retiree Health Exchange™ and Via Benefits™, provides a checklist and timeline that can guide you through the process of enrolling in Medicare and assessing how you will cover the cost of prescription medication. If your income is low, you may qualify to enroll in Medicaid, which covers more expenses than Medicare. If you have already begun to take your social security benefits, then you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare. A packet entitled “Welcome to Medicare” will be sent to your address three months before turning 65. There are essential actions to take, and deadlines associated with this packet so read through the material carefully and meet those deadlines.

There are resources available to help you understand what your options are and the best way for you to proceed. As you approach the age of 65 many private insurance companies will lobby for your insurance dollars that will be spent on supplemental insurance. Finding a retirement planning company with insurance brokers that can sell you policies from many different insurance companies is more advantageous than locking into a group that will only sell plans that are associated with their company. A reputable insurance broker should not charge for helping you to assess your situation as they make commissions from the insurance company providing the policy to you. Check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) online where you can plug in the name of an insurance group or retirement counselor and find out how long they have been in business, their accreditation, BBB rating, and customer reviews and complaints.

If you are over the age of 50, you can contribute an extra 1,000 dollars annually to your IRAs and an additional 6,000 dollars to 401(k)s up until the age of 65, according to Kiplinger. If you are still working, this is an excellent way to boost your retirement spending money. Before 65, you need to explore the option of a long-term care insurance policy, which helps to pay for any assisted living care needs you may require in the future. Long-term care policies can be expensive. If you do not enroll in a long-term care plan before the age of 65, the policies will become practically unaffordable.

Before turning 65, you should also come to terms with your will, advance medical directives, trusts, and the difficult conversation with your spouse or children about your end-of-life wishes and any funeral arrangements. Take heart, turning 65 is far from a death sentence as many Americans are living long and active lives well beyond the age of 65; however, meeting with an elder counsel attorney can save you and your heirs plenty of money and heartache. Do not wait until an adverse medical event forces your family or loved one to act on your behalf financially or medically. Decisions made under duress do not provide the best outcomes. Beyond your will, power of attorney, and power of medical attorney, consider a dementia directive as well. Projections for the aging US population indicate an ever-increasing number of seniors who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Your elder counsel attorney can guide you through your options. Some states even have working templates for dementia directives. As you age, you can review your legal strategies from time to time and make adjustments as you deem necessary. It isn’t easy to discuss your end-of-life scenario, but once you have had the discussions and put proper legal documents into place, you can move forward with a sense of relief. It is freeing to make decisions and act on your future behalf, knowing you can always revisit your choices.

Now for the fun stuff, get excited about the senior discount. While it is true that there are discounts available as early as 55 and 62, nothing beats the senior discount at age 65. You can check off that bucket list of yours with deals on restaurant meals and travel excursions, clubs, retail stores, hotels, cinemas, smartphone plans, AARP membership discounts, and more. If you do not see an offering for a 65 senior discount posted, by all means, ask.

Beyond Medicare eligibility, you can get a one-time free physical exam if you have Medicare Part B insurance coverage. Gyms and community programs offer discounted or free physical fitness programs so that you can keep yourself moving and as healthy as possible. If you have Medicare, check out your eligibility for SilverSneakers for a 65+ fitness program. Your local senior center can keep you socially active and connected to people your age. Making friends and enjoying the simple act of conversation is known to have many benefits for your cognition and staves off isolation and depression issues.

If you retire from your job at 65, you can finally begin to collect on your pension plan or 401(k). That in itself is worth a celebration after many decades of hard work. You might also opt to collect your social security benefits, but it is generally advisable to wait until you reach full retirement age.

Homestead benefits and property tax exemptions are considerable benefits for those who already own or plan to own a home or property. Benefits vary by state, so you will need to see what you can qualify for where you live. Your local comptrollers’ office can provide information about offers regarding homestead benefits. For property tax exemptions, you must contact your local comptroller or tax assessor’s office for exemption information.

There is a lot to discover, learn, and know about how to proceed in life at age 65 and beyond. With Social Security benefit determinations, health insurance policies, and legal documents in order, you can begin to enjoy being 65. Start your education about being 65 or older today. Stay vibrant and healthy and enjoy those things you dreamed of doing when you were your younger self. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

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Social Security Disability Income and Qualifications 101

Temporary or permanent disability can happen to anyone at any time. Do you understand the role social security can play? Some projections are estimating that Americans in their 20s today have an approximate 30 percent chance of experiencing a disability profound enough to cause them to miss three or more months of work before retiring. Despite the risks, most Americans do not carry short or long-term disability insurance. Close to half of all mortgage foreclosures are due to owners being struck with a disability, and fewer than 15 percent of people who purchase life insurance opt for disability insurance. The Social Security Administration (SSA) was tasked in 1956 to address disability and work income by creating a disability insurance program. Throughout its long history, additional rules have contributed to its complex regulations and eligibility requirements that make applying for disability benefits difficult.

What Are the Disability Benefits and Eligibility?

The disability benefits are in the form of monthly payments to provide a safety net for qualified individuals who have become too disabled to work. The benefits are paid through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs. Both of the programs are intended for disabled workers, but they have different benefits and qualifying requirements as well as different funding sources.

To become eligible for the SSDI program, you will have worked a required number of years in a job where you paid into the social security taxes (FICA, Federal Insurance Contributions Act). You have to have accrued a certain number of work credits. You can earn up to 4 work credits per year. Workers that do not have the required number of work years and who also have low income and minimal assets can apply for SSI. In both programs, you are not eligible to be engaged in a substantial gainful activity (SGA), earning a certain amount of income from some other work.

The number of work credits required as a qualification for SSDI benefits depends on the age at which you became disabled. Generally, it is possible to qualify if you have earned at least 20 credits in the ten years before being disabled and if you have earned credits that total 40 or more. If you do not have enough work credits to qualify, there is a chance you can become qualified based on a spouse or parent’s work record. There are many regulations governing eligibility for SSDI, and each individual has a varied work history. To understand how to qualify and how much you should be able to receive, it is best to contact a legal professional for help.

Maintaining Disability Qualifications and Benefits

Once you qualify from a work history perspective for SSDI, then you must prove you meet medical eligibility requirements. SSDI benefits are available to those workers who have a severe, long-term, or total disability. A severe disability is a condition that interferes with general work-related actions. Long-term disability means you are unable to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) for a minimum of one year. Total disability is a person’s inability to work in their own or any other occupation for which they are suited by training, experience, or education due to a sickness or injury.

SSI medical qualifications are similar to medical terms used in SSDI qualifications; however, these individuals must also have limited resources and a low income. The benefits from the SSI program are funded through general tax revenue and not dependent on your work history or having paid into the social security taxes known as FICA.

For either program, it can be challenging to qualify for the SSA’s definition of disabled. To be considered disabled by the SSA, your condition has to last a year or be expected to last a year. Or your condition should be expected to result in your death. Your condition must also significantly limit your abilities to do necessary work activities like walking, sitting, standing, or retaining and remembering information. Additionally, your condition must be listed in the SSA’s “Listing of Impairments” (Blue Book) or have medical equivalency to listed conditions. Finally, your condition must prevent you from doing any work for which you qualify before your disability.  

The Approval Process for Social Security Disability

Becoming approved for benefits is a lengthy and often frustrating process as many people are denied on their first application. A myriad of forms, doctors’ recommendations, personal medical history, work, and tax documentation all contribute to becoming accepted into either program. You can apply online or at your local social security office. It is best to contact the office to schedule an appointment to submit your application for benefits. Regarding financial qualification, be prepared with your work history and current earnings, household assets and income, your bank, and financial institution information. Also required is your current and past employers and up to five jobs you have held in the past 15 years, any other benefits you may be receiving, your status of citizenship, and, if applicable, any paperwork from a military discharge.  Pay stubs, proof of citizenship, W-2s or 1099s, information about your disability, and detailed medical records are all pertinent data to bring.

An initial application that is denied has multiple stages of appeal. You can enter a request for reconsideration or even go up as high as an appeal to a federal court. If your condition has made you very sick and you are experiencing a severe medical condition, there is a streamlined process known as the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance List. This list primarily includes adult brain disorders, certain cancers, and several rare disorders that affect children. If and when you are approved for disability income through SSDI or SSI, there is a waiting period. Benefits will not be made available to you until you have been disabled for a full five months, and, likely, you will not be approved for six months to a year, including the likelihood for at least one level of appeal. Be prepared from the outset for a lengthy process and improve your chances for approval with a well thought out, legally reviewed application for disability income. If you have questions or would like to discuss your situation with us, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

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Is COVID-19 Putting Your Social Security at Risk

The recent pandemic has caused for many drastic changes in our economy including social security funding. The US Social Security Administrations funding trusts are known as the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund. In their 2019 annual report to Congress, the Board of Trustees released some startling detail about projected insolvency for the Social Security Program by the year 2035. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has been dipping into its “trust fund” to meet scheduled benefit payouts. Social Security program costs continue to exceed non-interest income.

The OASI has no authority to borrow money, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American workforce is severely reduced. Now there are far fewer workers paying into the Social Security system. The payroll tax is the cash liquidity needed to fund by far the single most significant source of federal spending, and it is drying up. Trust reserves will be depleted faster than the projection of 2035.

The situation became dire in what seems like an instant, but it is due to more than 22 million Americans losing their jobs in the past four weeks. Twenty-two million fewer people are propping up the Social Security system at a time when a lot more money will soon be going out. People who are now out of work will be able to draw benefits and may do just that out of sheer economic need.

According to Market Watch reporting, by columnist Alicia H. Munnell, a leading expert on Social Security “We are going to lose a lot of payroll tax revenue this year” as “expenditures keep at their regular pace, if not at an immediately  higher pace because older people can’t find a job might turn to claim early.” The gap between what the SSA takes in versus pays out will widen further, and the trust fund that fills this gap will be depleted faster than ever. Social Security trustees Labor Secretary Acosta, Health and Human Services Secretary Azar, and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin have yet to release their updated projections on just how quickly the trust fund will run out of cash.

With the advent of COVID-19 and ever-increasing expenditure to protect the unemployed and vulnerable people of America, it will behoove those who have retirement and estate plans to review and make appropriate changes to cover what may be shortfalls to their expected Social Security benefits. Also, consider any expected employee pensions you may have from businesses that may go bankrupt. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of time to get a good fix in place for you or the government because of the world-wide economic market crashes. The fix for Social Security has moved to a scale of monies not seen before this pandemic. The current solution of the SSA is for the American taxpayer to receive somewhere around 75 percent of their previously promised benefits. Still, that percentage was established before the loss of 22 million workers and their payroll tax contributions.

The perfect storm has come to pass. Americans are experiencing a pandemic that spurs massive unemployment, which in turn leaves, at minimum, 22-million fewer payroll tax contributors, which accelerates the timeline of a projected insolvent Social Security system. The Social Security solvency problem, coupled with the US Census Bureau reporting a declining US birth rate for the fifth straight year while people are living longer than ever before, and this perfect storm becomes cataclysmic.

The good news is American people want to go to work and get on with their lives. Successful retirement and estate planning are all about mitigating risk and expanding rewards. We can help with your planning. The sooner you start, the better, as we could remain in uncertain times for a while longer. We look forward to hearing from you, please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.