My last couple of columns dealt with questions
about Social Security Benefits. In our recent
workshop a spokesperson for Social Security covered
several benefits administered by the agency: Medicare,
Disability, Survivor, and Retirement.
The main idea that I took away from that meeting
is that Social Security Benefits are complex and
probably require assistance from both Social Security
and a trusted advisor to ensure success in applying
for and receiving the benefits available. In a
past column I mentioned a few complicating factors
related to the optimum time to take your retirement
benefit. Additional considerations include what
benefits you are entitled to and how to determine
them. For instance, if you were married for at
least 10 years and then divorced, you are likely
eligible for retirement benefits either under
your own earnings, those of your current spouse
(if you remarried) or your ex-spouse’s benefit.
While it is possible to figure your retirement
benefits using some or all of the many social
security websites, it became evident to me that
Social Security regulations are dynamic, changing
very often, so it might make sense to visit face-to-face
with a Social Security representative in order
to best understand your options. That said, Social
Security personnel are not allowed to recommend
a particular course of action, only to make you
aware of your options. It therefore may make sense
to consult with your financial planner or other
trusted advisor to determine which of the options
best suits your situation.
Other benefits available
from Social Security include Medicare, SSI and
Disability. These programs are no less complex
than the retirement benefit and failure to understand
and act in a timely manner to claim benefits available
can be costly. For example, failure to enroll
in either Medicare parts B or D within the proper
enrollment period could subject you to higher
costs when you do enroll. Further, enrollment
periods have been changing and are different this
year than last.
The majority of initial Social Security Disability
claims are denied. However, by persistently moving
through the appeals and hearings process most
claims are approved. The unfortunate side effect
of this process is the time lag on up to two years
before you can finally get to the judge to make
the ultimate decision could erase your assets.
It was pointed out that the judges have greater
discretion to grant claims than the initial processors.
Ultimately, most of us will likely benefit from
the advocacy of a trusted advisor to assist us
in navigating the labyrinth that is Social Security.