Disability

What Changes Will Be Made to Social Security This Year?

Social Security now delivers benefit checks to more than 63 million people every month, so it’s important to know what changes will be made to social security this year.

The program is primarily designed to provide a financial foundation for our nation’s retired workers. Nearly 45 million retired workers (70% of all beneficiaries) receive a benefit check monthly, with more than 60% of these seniors expecting their payout to make up at least half of their income.

What changes will be made to social security this year
There will be five primary changes to Social Security this year.

Motley Fool’s recent article, “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income” explains that with the relative importance of Social Security, it should come as no shock that the second week of October holds considerable importance to these tens of millions of Americans. That’s because it’s when the Social Security Administration (SSA) announces changes to the program for the upcoming year. Any changes could directly affect what beneficiaries are paid on a monthly basis. These changes can also affect non-retirees who aren’t getting a Social Security benefit. Let’s look at some of the primary changes.

  1. COLA. The most important figure in the announcement from the SSA is the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The COLA is measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the current year (July through September) is compared to the average monthly CPI-W reading from the third quarter of the previous year. If the average figure has risen from the previous year, then beneficiaries receive a “raise” that’s in line with the percentage increase year over year, rounded to the nearest 0.1%.
  2. Withholding thresholds. Early claimants who haven’t hit their full retirement age but are currently (or expected to begin) taking benefits, will now be subject to the retirement earnings test. This test allows early filers to earn up to a certain amount of money each year, before the SSA is allowed to withhold a portion, or all, of their benefit. For those who won’t reach their full retirement age in 2019, $1 in benefits can be withheld for every $2 in earnings above $17,640 ($1,470 a month). For those who’ll reach their full retirement age this year but have yet to do so, are allowed to earn $46,920 before the SSA begins withholding $1 in benefits for every $3 in earnings above the limit. Note that these withheld benefits aren’t lost forever, because you get them back in the form of a higher monthly payout when you reach your full retirement age.
  3. Maximum monthly payout. If you’re currently claiming a retired worker benefit and have made a good deal of money on an annual basis over your working career, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to net more in monthly payouts in 2020. There’s a cap on the maximum monthly payout at full retirement age. In 2019, no individual at their full retirement age can take home more than $2,861 per month, even if they made millions of dollars each year throughout their working career.
  4. Disability income thresholds. Even though 70% program recipients are retired workers, about 10 million people each month also get a check from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Approximately 8½ million are disabled workers, and the rest are spouses or children of these disabled workers. If the average CPI-W reading does increase on a year-over-year basis from the previous year (which appears likely), these SSDI income thresholds for the disabled and legally blind should go up a little in 2020.
  5. A warning to the wealthy. Lastly, SSA changes for 2020 won’t just impact those receiving a benefit. Wealthy workers can also anticipate paying more into the program, provided that inflation rises on a year-over-year basis, as measured by the CPI-W.

Reference: Motley Fool (July 28, 2019) “5 Social Security Changes in 2020 That Could Affect Your Take-Home Income”

Why Did a Georgia Woman Try to Trick a Judge Concerning Her Son’s Special Needs Trust?

A Georgia woman surrendered to the Gwinnett County Detention Center recently and remains behind bars without bond on charges of perjury, forgery, identity theft, theft by deception, criminal solicitation and exploitation of an at-risk adult.

Yvonne Longmire’s son, 20-year-old Lee Earnest Longmire, is still missing. He has been declared a ward of the state but his guardian at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services has not seen him or cared for him.

11alive.com’s recent report, “Mother accused of trying to swindle special needs son out of trust fund turns herself in,” says that Yvonne Longmire and her attorney informed the police that Lee is “okay” but haven’t divulged his whereabouts or cooperated in turning him over to DFCS, as ordered by the state. The attorney told police that a doctor signed off on Lee’s recovery, stating he had become higher functioning. The man has special needs and has not been seen in years. His mother is accused of attempting to scam him out of his trust fund.

“Obviously, there are different interpretations of what OK is. We need to make sure that he’s OK to the standards set forth by the state,” Gwinnett Police spokesperson Wilbert Rundles said.

Yvonne Longmire is accused of hiring another man, 23-year-old Maurice Ford from Atlanta, to take her son’s place in court to convince a judge that he no longer needed a conservator over his trust fund, which is valued at $200,000. However, before the funds could be withdrawn and given to Yvonne, the former conservatory attorney and his paralegal became suspicious and called the police.

According to the police report, Yvonne provided a driver’s license to the attorney, who acted as Lee’s conservator, but he said the picture didn’t look like Lee. The paralegal found a photo of Lee on Facebook, and the two confirmed it wasn’t the same person.

But one of Lee’s old teachers also saw the driver’s license and said it was him, according to the police report.

Maurice Ford was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona and is currently awaiting extradition to face charges in Georgia. In the meantime, the search continues for Lee.

“Our primary focus is his safety,” Rundles said. “We care about his well-being, we care about his safety and we want the people that are going to be able to take care of him to provide him care or put him in a long-term care facility, where he can be cared for by someone who does have his best interests at heart.”

Reference: 11alive.com (March 5, 2019) “Mother accused of trying to swindle special needs son out of trust fund turns herself in”

When the Diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, What Should You Do?

The authors of a new book, “Better Living With Dementia,” say it’s time to break the “cycle of despair”

People who receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, an incurable type of dementia, are overwhelmed by hopelessness. But two authors want to change that.

MP900407501The authors of a new book, “Better Living With Dementia,” say it’s time to break the “cycle of despair” that accompanies an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The Washington Post discussed this new perspective with the well-credentialed authors in a recent article, “Learning To Live Well With Dementia.”

Author Laura Gitlin is dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University and Chair of the Department of Health and Human Services advisory council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Human Services. Her co-author is Nancy Hodgson, the Anthony Buividas endowed term chair in gerontology at the University of Pennsylvania.

These leading experts on care for people with cognitive impairment, say that while there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are many things that can be done to make life better for people with dementia and their caregivers.

At a minimum, people newly diagnosed with dementia should consult with the Alzheimer’s Association, the Lewy Body Dementia Association, the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration and the government’s website, alzheimers.gov. These are all great sources of information and potential assistance. Individuals and families should also get referrals to elder law attorneys, financial planners, adult day centers, respite services, caregiver support services and other resources.

About 70% of people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia live at home. Few professionals ask about patients’ living conditions, even though these environments play a major role in shaping people’s safety and well-being. It’s not uncommon for professionals to fail to let patients know what to expect as dementia progresses. This can fosters isolation, which worsens their sense of despair.

Even small steps could help improve quality of life. For example, give focused attention to the home setting itself. Hire an occupational therapist, ideally with expertise in dementia, to do a home assessment and recommend modifications. It’s also important to know what to expect. Individuals with dementia and their caregivers will find their needs changing as their illness progresses.

Initially, the most critical need may be getting a reliable diagnosis and understanding more about the type of dementia identified by your physician. A new study by Johns Hopkins University reports that 60% of people with dementia haven’t been diagnosed or aren’t aware of their diagnosis.

Further, depression and anxiety may need to be addressed, because people can struggle with the reality of a diagnosis, withdraw from work or social activities and worry about the future. Looking for ways to keep people engaged with meaningful activities can become a challenge.

In the final stage, severe dementia, people need sensory stimulation, like enjoyable music or a fragrant bouquet of flowers. Addressing distress, discomfort and pain are the big care challenges.

The challenge for family members and caregivers is to let dementia patients know that they belong and are surrounded with warmth and affection, at every stage of the disease. Even if they cannot acknowledge the presence of family and friends, their company is important.

Reference: The Washington Post (August 9, 2018) “Learning To Live Well With Dementia”

When Was the Last Time You Reviewed Beneficiary Designations?

Most people fill out beneficiary forms when they start a new job, open an investment account and open bank accounts. Then they forget about those forms—often for decades.

Talk about a train wreck waiting to happen: beneficiary designations from three or four decades ago can really create a problem for your heirs—or those you thought were your heirs.

Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974Most people fill out beneficiary forms when they start a new job, open an investment account and open bank accounts. Then they forget about those forms—often for decades. Those people named as beneficiaries way back when, are now their heirs—whether they want them to be or not.

Wealth Advisor’srecent article, “Designated Survivor: Beneficiary Designations Can Make–or Break–Your Estate Plan,” reminds us that beneficiary designations override the terms of your will or trust. To avoid any unintended consequences, it’s very important to review your designations with your estate planning attorney. Think about the following:

Children. Many people name their children as beneficiaries on their accounts and other assets, without knowing the consequences of this choice. If a minor inherits an asset in this way, a guardianship proceeding will likely be required to appoint a guardian to receive and manage the inherited assets on behalf of any minor child. The court proceedings are costly and time-consuming. In many states, the court will place restrictions on how and when the money can be used for the beneficiary during the guardianship. When you designate a person with disabilities as a beneficiary, it may impact his or her ability to qualify for public benefits. These issues can be avoided by naming a trust as the beneficiary.

Major Life Changes. We all experience changes. They can include major changes like birth, death, marriage, divorce, a new home, or a job change. However, people frequently neglect to look at their estate plans and beneficiary designations, when these events occur. Coordinating your beneficiary designations with your estate plan, can eliminate the need to update your beneficiary designations with each life change. At the very least, it will give you with some guidance on the types of situations that should cause you to conduct a review and to update these forms.

Trusts. You may have, or want, a revocable trust in your estate plan. This will give you additional privacy, flexible administration and important protections for your beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations are an ideal way to transfer your assets into your trust and to leverage the benefits of trust planning, without impacting the ownership of assets during your lifetime.

Retirement Accounts. When it comes to selecting beneficiaries for income tax deferred assets, like IRAs or 401(k)s, it’s usually a spouse who is named as the primary beneficiary. This maximizes the income tax deferrals and other administrative privileges provided to surviving spouses. Deciding on the contingent beneficiary is a little harder, because there are income tax and other considerations that should be evaluated when making this decision.

The best way to preclude problems, is to review all of the accounts that have a beneficiary designation to ensure that they still reflect your wishes. Doing so will save your heirs a great deal of time and stress and eliminate any surprises. Talk with your estate planning attorney to ensure that all of your assets will transfer to the heirs you want, not the ones you forgot about years ago.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (August 6, 2018)“Designated Survivor: Beneficiary Designations Can Make–or Break–Your Estate Plan”

Will Your Heirs Receive What You Wanted, Or Will There Be a Family Battle?

To be certain the heirs you intend inherit the assets you intend, remember these points

One of the reasons that people do estate planning, is to make sure that their assets go to the people they want.  However, when things change, and estate plans aren’t updated, it doesn’t always work out.

MP900178564If you are like most people, most of your assets are in retirement accounts, annuities, life insurance policies and pensions, says MD Magazine in its recent article, “Making Sure Your Heirs Get What You Intend.” These accounts require that a beneficiary be named, and those assets go directly to the beneficiary on the death of the owner.

It’s not uncommon after a few years, for a person to forget which beneficiaries they specified for a life insurance policy or pension. Perhaps it’s a first spouse and they’ve now remarried. There’s no “do-over” after you’re gone, which can lead to considerable confusion and stress. It will also ultimately disappoint your intended heirs. In addition, based on whether and how some other assets are designated in estate planning documents, some states may send the matter to probate. This can be a long and expensive process, since if the estate plan was done right in the first place, it wouldn’t be needed.

To be certain the heirs you intend inherit the assets you intend, remember these points:

  • Keep track of the beneficiaries you’ve designated for your accounts. If you don’t recall, check with these institutions.
  • Don’t rely on cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all estate planning products. Get a custom plan from an experienced estate planning attorney, even though it may cost a little bit more money.
  • Regularly review the beneficiary designations on your financial accounts and those in your will, to be sure they’re in sync and current.

Some people think they are required to create a trust for estate planning, when a well-drafted will and clear beneficiary designations will suffice. Talk to your attorney to determine if a trust is a good idea for your specific situation. The primary reason in some cases to have a trust is potential incapacitation.  Therefore, a trust can empower heirs to manage your estate without first going to court to get a conservatorship, which can be time-consuming and costly.

A trust can also be way to manage your estate “from the grave.” A trustee is appointed to assure that assets are distributed according to specified instructions. This can be a good way to make sure heirs with dependency issues don’t burn through their inheritance quickly or spend it on the wrong things. Trusts can also be a smart way to ensure the care of a disabled relative.

A qualified estate planning attorney will help you create an estate plan, which should include a thorough evaluation of all of your assets and updating your beneficiary designations.

Reference: MD Magazine(July 25, 2018)“Making Sure Your Heirs Get What You Intend”

When Special Needs Children Become Legal Adults

The saying “little children, little problems, big children, big problems,” is particularly appropriate

The saying “little children, little problems, big children, big problems,” is particularly appropriate for parents of special needs children. Preparing for the next phase takes time, so it’s best to begin the process, once they celebrate their 17thbirthday.

MP900302913One of the many decisions that parents need to make before a special needs child becomes a legal adult, is whether or not the child needs a guardian, or if the parents need a power of attorney, as detailed in a helpful article from Effingham (IL) Daily News,“Teaching parents about guardianship of disabled children.”

Once a child is age 18, the parent is no longer the child's legal guardian.

You should identify the support required for your child and ask what other support they need, while they’re transitioning. Work with a special needs attorney and ask about guardianship. Guardianship is a way to protect an individual who can’t take care of herself, make informed decisions or handle financial assets. An experienced attorney will explain guardianship and alternatives that may be chosen, if the child is capable of making some, but not all, decisions on her own. There are different kinds of guardianships and different kinds of powers of attorney (POA) for estate and health care requirements.

A person can be disabled in some ways, but still be competent to execute the powers of attorney. If the person understands who their family is, who she is, if she’s oriented to time, and she knows who they trust to handle their business or health care decisions, then she can probably sign powers of attorney.

A POA is written authorization to represent a person and make specific decisions on her behalf. The child may have a POA over her health care or estate management. A guardianship of the child’s health care or estate management is appointed by a judge, after reviewing physician statements about the disabled person's needs.

Remember that having power of attorney over their child's financial matters, doesn't give parents power over everything. Things not covered in the POA document are things over which the agent doesn't have the authority. A POA can be revoked, when the person assigning it is competent. However, in a guardianship appointed by the court, you have a duty to act, until the court determines otherwise.

You’ll need a physician’s report that clearly states that the allegedly disabled person needs to have a guardian, and the report should include very specific reasons. Guardianship needs to be a narrow as possible. A special needs attorney can guide you through this process to protect your loved one.

Reference: Effingham (IL) Daily News(April 15, 2018) “Teaching parents about guardianship of disabled children”

Diagnosis for Early Onset Alzheimer Not an Easy Matter

For younger patients, early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms are usually disregarded or blamed on fatigue, depression or stress.

Bigstock-Beautiful-woman-looking-throug-20311445It often takes a very long time before a young person having problems with memory loss or confusion is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The Concord Monitor reports, in “Stolen Memories: Problems with diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s,the delay in diagnosis can lead to problems with work and health insurance coverage.

One-third of the people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, who responded to a 2006 survey by the Alzheimer’s Association said it took them somewhere between one to six years to receive an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Subsequent studies by the Alzheimer’s Association have estimated that as many as 50% of people of all ages with the disease neverreceive a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there is no easy blood test that can be used to detect the brain disease. Diagnoses are usually confirmed through a combination of neuropsychological exams, analyses of a patient’s family history and costly spinal taps, MRIs, PET and CAT scans to view plaques and tangles in the brain.

Meanwhile, because of this delay, younger people can have issues at work because of the symptoms.

“Families will come in to meet with me and I’ll say, ‘Are you still working?’ and they’ll say, ‘No, I got laid off,’ or, ‘I took an early retirement, because I wasn’t sure what was going on,’ and lo and behold they realized later they had Alzheimer’s,” said Melissa Grenier, manager of the New Hampshire Alzheimer’s Association.

Because of the time it takes to get an accurate diagnosis, patients with early dementia frequently are fired or move from job to job. Most patients displaying symptoms are not aware of it at the time.  As a result, it can be discouraging and frustrating.

If a person had a heart condition, they would be aware of the illness and would be able to work with their employer to ensure that they continued to have a job and health insurance coverage and/or disability insurance coverage.  However, if they are fired or stop working before receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, they will lose the financial safety net. Treating a condition like Alzheimer’s costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The person with Alzheimer’s is usually the last to know that there are issues. Those patients who are aware of changes in behavior, can be reluctant to speak with their employer. They fear that they could lose their positions.

Families facing early-onset Alzheimer’s should speak with an elder lawyer. This is not an easy situation, and professional help will be needed.

Reference: Concord Monitor(April 8, 2018) “Stolen Memories: Problems with diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s”

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