Act Quickly to Protect an Estate

For most families, the process of estate administration or the probate of a will starts weeks after the death of a loved one.  However, before that time, there are certain steps that need to be taken immediately after death, according to a recent article “Protecting an estate requires swift action” from The Record-Courier. It is not always easy to keep a clear head and stay on top of these tasks but pushing them aside could lead to serious losses and possible liability.

The first step is to secure the deceased’s home, cars and personal property. The residence needs to be locked to prevent unauthorized access. It may be wise to bring in a locksmith, so that anyone who had been given keys in the past will not be able to go into the house. Cars should be parked inside garages and any personal property needs to be securely stored in the home. Nothing should be moved until the trust administration or probate has been completed. Access to the deceased’s digital assets and devices also need to be secured.

Mail needs to be collected and retrieved to prevent the risk of unauthorized removal of mail and identity theft. If there is no easy access to the mailbox, the post office needs to be notified, so mail can be forwarded to an authorized person’s address.

Estate planning documents need to be located and kept in a safe place. The person who has been named as the executor in the will needs to have those documents. If there are no estate planning documents or if they cannot be located, the family will need to work with an estate planning attorney. The estate may be subjected to a probate proceeding.

One of the responsibilities that most executors don’t know about, is that when a person dies, their will needs to be admitted to the court, regardless whether they had trusts. If the deceased left a will, the executor or the person who has possession of the will must deliver it to the court clerk. Failing to do so could result in large civil liability.

At least five and as many as ten original death certificates should be obtained. The executor will need them when closing accounts. As soon as possible, banks, financial institutions, credit card companies, pension plans, insurance companies and others need to be notified of the person’s passing. The Social Security Administration needs to be notified, so direct deposits are not sent to the person’s bank account. Depending on the timing of the death, these deposits may need to be returned. The same is true if the deceased was a veteran—the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) need to be notified. There may be funeral benefits or survivor benefits available.

It is necessary, even in a time of grief, to protect a loved one’s estate in a timely and thorough manner. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help through this process.

Reference: The Record-Courier (Oct. 17, 2020) “Protecting an estate requires swift action”

Social Security Disability Benefits for Children Under the Age of 18

If you have a child with a significant disability, you might think the child would automatically qualify for government benefits. However, in reality, you will have to jump through several hoops. In addition to any assistance your state might provide, your child might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Here is an overview of the process for going after Social Security disability benefits for children under the age of 18.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a two-part procedure for determining whether a child is eligible to receive disability benefits. The adult acting on the child’s behalf must complete and file:

  • An Application for Supplemental Security Income, and
  • A Child Disability Report

The Application for Supplemental Security Income for a Child Under the Age of 18

The SSA does not provide an online Application for Supplemental Security Income for a child under the age of 18. You will have to fill out the printed form. These forms can be confusing, but do not give up. You can call your local Social Security Office or go by their office to schedule an appointment to complete the application paperwork with an agent of the SSA. The agent can help you in person or over the telephone.

The SSA usually does not publish the telephone numbers of their local offices, so you will have to call the main number to get connected to your local office. The main SSA phone number is 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Your local office can help you determine whether the child meets the financial requirements for SSI benefits. The countable income and assets of the child and parents must not exceed the allowed amount. The SSA excludes many assets from consideration, which is why they use the term “countable income and assets.”

The Child Disability Report

You can complete the Child Disability Report online. If you want assistance with the form or would prefer not to use the online form, you can call the SSA for help. Whether you complete the Child Disability Report online or at an SSA office, you will have to sign a document that authorizes the SSA to talk with your child’s doctor about the medical condition that is the cause of the disability.

You can provide records you already have, and the SSA will make a copy so you can keep your records. You do not have to collect documents you do not already have. Since you have to give the SSA permission to contact the child’s health care providers, the agency can request the records for their evaluation of the application. Depending on the facts of your situation, the SSA might find these records of the child useful:

  • Medical records
  • Prescriptions or pharmacy medication containers
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP) from the child’s school
  • Individualized Family Service Plan

Sometimes people start an online Child Disability Report and realize the need more time or information to complete the form. If you find yourself in that situation, write down the re-entry number you get from the SSA website. You can use that number to go back to the Child Disability Report, when you are ready to finish the form.

It can be useful to talk to an elder law attorney in your area about planning for your child’s future and how your state’s regulations might vary from the general law of this article.

References:

Social Security Administration. “Apply for Disability Benefits – Child (Under Age 18).” (accessed August 29, 2019) https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/apply-child.html

Could You Lose Your Social Security Benefits to Creditors?

What if you are retired and the only income you have is your Social Security benefit? “Can Creditors Come After Your Social Security Benefits” is the question posed by Yahoo! Finance. While for the most part, you don’t have to worry about creditors coming after your Social Security benefits, there are others who can get them, if you haven’t paid certain debts.

Personal loan payments, credit card payments, or medical bills are usually not able to take your Social Security benefits. But there are some exceptions you’ll need to know about:

  • The IRS will not blink at taking up to 15% of your benefits, if your taxes are not paid.
  • If you owe on student loans, the loan companies can come after your Social Security benefits, even if the debt is decades old.
  • The same is true if you are behind on either child support or alimony payments.

As long as your outstanding debt is not tax-related, the first $750 of your benefits is protected from being garnished. However, if you’re behind on child support or alimony, you could lose more than 50% of those benefits.

There are steps to take if debt is an issue. First, if you owe money to the IRS, contact the local IRS office to work out a payment plan. They will almost always work with people to reach an agreement on an installment payment agreement. This will avoid having your benefits garnished.

If you’re behind on student loan payments, reach out to the lender and work out an arrangement. If you can prove that your financial situation is dire, you might be able to come up with a deferred payment plan or change the repayment schedule.

If things are really bad, consider filing for bankruptcy. If you do, realize that not all your debt will be dischargeable. For the most part, the same debts that can cause Social Security benefits to be garnished, like overdue taxes and student loans, are not forgivable by a bankruptcy. If those are your key issues, bankruptcy is not your best option.

This might be a situation where a bankruptcy attorney or a debt settlement firm is needed. Be very cautious about working with a debt settlement firm, to be sure that they are credible and trustworthy. The firm or the attorney will be able to help negotiate the debts. Remember that the ultimate goal of any creditor is to get paid, and sometimes getting paid half of the amount is better than not being paid at all.

Your best bet is to approach this problem and tackle it before you file for Social Security. If your sole source of retirement income is compromised, you want to contact the local county Office for Aging services to find out what kind of help is available in your community. Don’t leave this hanging and hope that it will be resolved by itself.

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (April 27, 2019) “Can Creditors Come After Your Social Security Benefits”