Seniors Want Control and Choice at The End of Life

Apr 22, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

In the mid 1990s, the State of Oregon took the concept of a Do Not Resuscitate, or DNR order one step further and began using a two page form known as a “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment”, or POLST for short. DNR orders had been used for decades to allow an individual to make the choice ahead of time that he or she does not want CPR to be administered if he or she is not breathing or is in cardiac arrest. Oregon’s POLST form offers the prospective patient the ability to make more choices than a DNR order, yet falls short of an advanced directive, or living will, since a POLST does not appoint a proxy who can make decisions on behalf of the patient when the patient is unable to do so.

Although a POLST form does allow a choice to be made regarding CPR, it also allows the person to make critical decisions regarding two other important areas of treatment as well — Medical Interventions and Artificially Administered Nutrition. The individual executing the form has the option to select a response in each section. In the Medical Interventions section, for example, the individual may choose either “Comfort Measures Only”, “Limited Additional Interventions” or “Full Treatment”. The option you choose in each section is then a legally binding choice that a physician must abide by if a decision is required regarding the treatment covered in the section.

The popularity of the POLST form is an indication of how important choice is to Americans. Not only has the Oregon POLST system now computerized, making a POLST form accessible to any physician at any hospital, but a number of other states have also adopted the use of the POLST form, or one similar.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

New Study Reveals How Well Seniors Adapt to Disability

Apr 18, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

Most of us worry about our parents and their wishes and efforts of living independently. Most of us can also relate to sitting at the office and wondering if Mom is sitting in her favorite recliner watching reruns of Gunsmoke or The Andy Griffith Show or if she’s attempting to reach that top shelf that houses her secret stash of chocolate. It’s about that time we pick up the phone to call her again…for the fifth time that day. And so our days go, a balance of wondering if our elderly parents are safe and sound and making sure the quarterly numbers match the report that’s on its way to our boss.

A new study published by the American Journal of Public Health provides interesting insight and statistics on just how successful our older loved ones are when it comes to adapting to living independently and especially if they’re disabled in some way.

Disability is defined for these purposes and by the Journal as a reduced ability to perform activities such as bathing, using the toilet, getting around, cooking or shopping because of deteriorating strength, mobility, pain or other physical or cognitive challenges.

The study focused on Medicare enrollees, 38 million of them, who were placed into five distinct categories:

  • Those live alone and with no assistance
  • Those who have disabilities but who are able to incorporate assistive technology
  • Those who have reduced their physical activities but aren’t likely to admit to it
  • Those who say there are daily difficulties in living independently, but are able to do so despite that; and
  • Those who rely on some form of daily assistance, either from friends, family and/or neighbors

The study itself was conducted by researchers with Johns Hopkins University, the Urban Institute, the University of Michigan and other institutes that contributed to some degree.

What their combined efforts found were that 12 million elderly are “fully able” to manage daily living on their own with no help. This equates to 31 percent of Medicare recipients. Another 25 percent of Medicare recipients, or 9 million, have found a way to adapt successfully to their disability while 6 percent, or 2.1 million, have reduced their activities without necessarily admitting it and 7 million are finding it increasingly difficult to function on their own.

Around 7.7 million received assistance at least once a month, and that includes those living in nursing homes.

What’s so enlightening about this report is that it’s the first of its kind and really focuses less on categories of “disabled” or “independent” and instead stresses their day to day lives that may or may not have assistance, even in a minimal way. It suggests that even if we lose some of our ability to function as easy as we used to, we’re not losing our independence.

This plays a big role, both now and in the future, of those preparing for retirement and wondering what that looks like. For too long, many assumed they would find themselves facing nursing homes or other living facilities versus remaining at home. It also provides insight as more of us move towards putting those important powers of attorney into place, such as who will be making our medical and financial decisions at some point. In other words, just because we lose the ability to climb that stepladder to retrieve the chocolate we “hid” from ourselves, we don’t lose our ability to rethink that decision and hide it a bit closer on a shelf we can reach without the aid of a stool.

Even if you’re already living independently, it’s a good time to give your estate plan a check-up. Review those powers of attorney, update your will, be sure you’ve included any changes you’ve been considering. Give us a call today to learn more so that you can get back to the business of those Andy Griffith reruns

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Elder Abuse Laws Gain Traction

Apr 17, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Elder Law, Uncategorized

Tennessee’s version of an elderly abuse law is gaining traction as it cleared the Senate this week, courtesy of Sen. Rusty Crowe (R). The goal is to put in place stronger safety mechanisms that will better protect the elderly and other adults with disabilities against abuse. If Senate Bill 1852 makes it over the remaining political hurdles, the punishments will be increased for those who abuse, exploit or neglect the disabled or elderly.

This will empower district attorneys’ efforts in prosecuting those crimes. It removes some of the challenging hurdles that have traditionally required extraordinary evidence, partly because the victims are often unable to testify on their own behalf due to dementia, Alzheimer’s or other disabilities.

Elder Abuse Statistics & Reporting

One big problem every state faces is the realization that many don’t report the abuse. The statistics reveal only one in 24 cases of elder abuse are even reported. This, according to the New York Elder Abuse Network, truly highlights the tragedy and much needed overhaul to every state’s laws.

New York’s laws have been on the books since 1995. The Elderly Abuse Education and Outreach Program was founded to provide resources, including education and outreach, for the public, but specifically to the state’s elderly and their caregivers. Recently, New York lawmakers laid aside $945,000 in order to keep the program available.

Because the elderly are at a higher risk of death, injury and illness, they’re far more likely to be victimized. In New York, more than 14 percent of seniors have experienced some type of elder abuse since turning 60.

While the changes to the various laws in Tennessee will help prosecutors, this state took it a step further with a statewide database, “Adult Abuse Registry”. This will require cities and counties to report those people who have been convicted of elder abuse and those in the healthcare sector are required to check the database prior to hiring an employee.

Every state has some form of reporting elder abuse, though typically, the mandatory aspect of those reports usually fall to medical providers, government agencies and mental health counselors.

Legal Protections

For many families, guardianships provide an additional level of security for their loved ones so that they’re less likely to be taken advantage of, especially from a financial perspective (elderly financial abuse is on the rise, as well). A guardianship can be used for health decisions, which means there are no legalities that prevent meeting with loved one’s doctor with the patient. This open line of communication is crucial as a physician can often spot signs of elder abuse that others miss. When guardianships or powers of attorney are in place, there’s no break in communication and loved ones are less vulnerable

One of the biggest problems, regardless of which state it is, are the startling statistics on who commits elder abuse. In New York financial abuse cases, more than one-third of the criminals are family members. It can be difficult for families to learn an elderly loved one has been abused, but it’s worse when they learn it’s their own family member. With legal protections in place, it can help ensure this type of abuse never occurs.

Need legal guidance for an elderly loved one? Our office can help put into place powers of attorney, guardianships and much more. Give us a call today for a free consultation.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Should You Justify Your Estate to Heirs?

Feb 19, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

Few things are more awkward and dreadful than broaching the topic of death with family members. Estate planning often requires it, though. But how much should you reveal to your family members or heirs? Better still, if you’ve opted not to, is it because you expect problems were you to reveal the details of who receives what? If so, that might be the very reason to hold a family meeting now. While only you can determine whether or not you should meet with your family to discuss what they’ll receive, there are more than a few reasons as to why it might best in our contemporary society.

If you’ve ever been dealt an unwelcome surprise, you know how frustrated and perhaps even betrayed you felt. By setting the stage and inspiring a sense of safety in speaking about what could be awkward topics, you’re also drawing the line that could prevent heated disagreements after you’re gone. It can prevent those arguments that begin with, “You always were Dad’s favorite. What did you say to him to make him do that?” Not only that, but if your spouse survives you, it could be the questions and frustrations are then unfairly directed to him or her. This way, you have the opportunity to explain your reasons in as definitive a manner as you wish.

You might be afforded the opportunity to revise your plan if you realize one heir really would be uncomfortable by receiving more of your estate than another. Of course, you’re under no obligation, but if anything willed to an heir could prove problematic for him or her, you still have the opportunity to revisit your choices. One example – a couple decided to reveal what they were leaving each of their two adult children. One son-in-law would receive his wife’s father’s gun collection at the time of his death. It wasn’t until the daughter learned of this that she told her parents that she was divorcing him after two decades of physical abuse she had endured and hidden. This allowed her father to change his will.

Another example included a small business that a couple had built for close to four decades. It wasn’t until the family sat down and discussed their estate plan that they learned one child really wanted nothing to do with it – and never did. He had put his own dreams on hold to help his parents build theirs. This allowed the parents to revise their plans so that the child who did not want the business could be left a sizeable insurance policy instead, thereby balancing the value of what each adult child received.

Another important consideration is the tax burden. It may be that a lifetime gift made now could save your survivors considerable estate taxes. This is important since assets often increase in value and what may seem reasonable today may be a massive tax bill due to appreciation in the value twenty years from now.

Bringing your estate front and center will also provide you the opportunity to double check your own intentions. A client had come to us after meeting with his family to explain his will. He hadn’t made changes in nearly twenty five years and when he initially created the will in another state, he had made provisions for his grandchildren. Unfortunately, there had been no grandchildren born in the years since. He knew that until he changed his will, he could be leaving his family and his estate vulnerable.

These are just a few of the reasons you should at least consider when making this choice. We stand ready to provide any assistance or guidance you might need and if you’ve not updated your estate plan in the past few years, it might be a good time for a review.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

What is a Special Needs Trust?

Feb 18, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

A special needs trust has many functions, and for those who have loved ones with any kind of disability, it can reduce a number of risks and better protect that loved one. These can allow for a better daily life and ease any potential financial burden. What really makes them a great financial tool is the fact that it won’t conflict with any kind of government benefits your loved one may receive. It’s ideal for peace of mind and asset protection and the fact that it won’t jeopardize housing benefits, Medicaid or other programs only adds to that peace of mind.

It’s important to note that there are laws that provide distinctive compliance guidelines in terms of who may establish special needs trusts and the ways in which they fund them. The Social Security Administration explains:

The person establishing the trust with the assets of the individual or transferring the assets of the individual to the trust must have legal authority to act with respect to the assets of that individual. Attempting to establish a trust with the assets of another individual without proper legal authority to act with respect to the assets of the individual will generally result in an invalid trust.

Putting a special needs trust in place reduces the risk of money or other assets being given directly to the one who needs assistance, only to learn he has given it away to someone who preys on the vulnerable. Not having a trust or bypassing it can mean a compromised lifestyle for your loved one.

Not only that, but a special needs trust can also serve as resource for covering expenses that may not be necessary, but can make life much more enjoyable. A dinner out, satellite television, internet service, movies – things of that nature are typically allowed in a special needs trust.

Not all who have a disability will qualify for programs like SSI or Medicaid and if the disability doesn’t prohibit one from working and earning a living, he may not qualify for public assistance. Those who are blind, who have Down Syndrome, organic brain conditions, mental illness, developmental disability or physical paralysis (to name just a few) are examples of those who qualify and these all meet the Social Security Administration’s criteria. Further, the disability typically will require lifetime continuances in order to qualify for government programs. A special needs trust eliminates that exclusion to ensure one is covered or picks up the balance after any government benefits have been put into place.

We always encourage clients to not underestimate the role of an estate planning lawyer in these types of cases. It’s the only way to ensure the trust is in compliance and the intended receives the benefit as it was intended. Also, each state has its own laws, and while they may appear similar from one state to another, the fact is, those small details can mean the difference in what your loved one receives. By including an experienced attorney in your efforts, you’re not only ensuring the foundation is solid, but you’re also going to build on that too. If a mistake is made early on, the problems as a result of that mistake can last for years.

Our families are what define us and anything we can do to make life easier for those we love is a good thing. A special needs trust can be the ideal vehicle to cover those expenses.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

MyRA the New Retirement Savings Cure-All?

Feb 13, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

Many of us paid close attention during President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address when he began talking retirement savings and employer sponsored plans. With close to half of all Americans have no retirement at all, it’s clearly the quieter of potential crises on the horizon.

The president described it as a “starter savings account” geared towards low to middle income workers. MyRA is similar to the traditional Roth IRA. It allows workers around the country to invest money after tax and withdraw the money in retirement tax-free. The big difference in terms of its similarities to a Roth IRA is that the savings are safer because they’re backed by U.S. Treasury bonds. This provides investors a bit of peace in their decisions. The accounts are voluntary and are available to married couples whose modified adjusted gross incomes are no more than $191,000 and to individuals earning up to $129,000.

A mere $25 deposit can get the account started and people can deduct as little as $5 per pay period to go into their accounts. They will earn variable interest with no fees. This eliminates many of the roadblocks that many Americans see. A simpler, straightforward approach is the solution for many – even those who are nearing retirement.

As expected, early withdrawals mean penalties until the owner is 59 1/2 years, but the withdrawal process is easy, unlike similar retirement programs. Here’s the key: once the account hits the $15,000 mark, the owner of the account must roll it over to a Roth IRA. The accounts also half a shelf life of thirty years. Past that, the accounts must be moved to the Roth IRA, even if the $15,000 threshold has not been met.

Employees who switch jobs will be able to keep their MyRA accounts without cashing them out. Workers would also be able to contribute to the same account from multiple part-time jobs. The new accounts will initially be offered through a pilot program with employers who choose to participate and should be available at the end of the year.

Is this a last opportunity for those nearing retirement? Maybe. The voluntary nature provide flexibility and as many near retirement, they often are working with the one goal of covering the bases for their future. Many have long since paid their mortgage, they may have minimal credit card debt and typically, their kids are grown and their own. Still, critics insist the retirement savings gap won’t be met with this program because of the voluntary nature and the fact that investments go to low-return Treasuries.

Many small business owners are also monitoring the progress of MyRA. Savings shortfalls are most acute for workers in small companies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 49 percent of workers at companies with 100 or fewer workers have access to a retirement plan. Part-time, independent and low-income workers also have difficulty accumulating savings, as do minority workers, as a recent report from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) bores out. It found that two-thirds or more of black and Latino households have no retirement savings.

There could be bigger options on the horizon, too. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. In early February, he introduced the USA Retirement Fund Act, which would establish a program quite similar to the traditional 401 (k). It would offer a number of investment opportunities, most low cost, that would be converted into an income source at retirement. This too is especially enticing for those nearing retirement, but who fear there is not enough saved.

For estate planning lawyers, it means a better outlook for their clients. For consumers, it means better opportunities and more options to help cover their retirement years.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Is Assisted Living an Option?

Feb 13, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

Assisted living is often confused with other housing options for seniors, but there are distinct differences. It’s a great choice for many families looking for a long-term care option that combines housing, support services and health care. It provides assistance with those daily activities and can help ensure a loved one is taking his medication, eating and is moving around as he can. It’s difficult for many families who want to be there around the clock for their loved ones but are unable to do so; assisted living is a great alternative.

With the numbers of Americans living with dementia or Alzheimer’s increasing every year, assisted living has become an important element in an aging population. While assisted living may mean different things to different people, it’s the similarities that really define the movement.

  • It’s not necessarily a replacement for a nursing home, though it is a comparable alternative.
  • Nursing home and assisted living services are both considered types of long-term care as far as Medicaid goes. Medicaid rules for long-term care are significantly different in many ways than their rules for other services, so your elder law attorney is a powerful advocate who can provide direction.
  • They’re similar, but not exact: assisted living is not the best solution for those needing medical and nursing care to the degree that a hospital or nursing home provides.

Remember, states have their own guidelines, as well. Those variations can be in payment policies, licensing and the degree of care an assisted living facility offers.

Many assisted living facilities provide private rooms or apartments. Most have more than ample recreational opportunities for those wishing to remain active. Some may offer golf courses, swimming pools – you’ll have to do your research to find the best match for your loved one.

Some assisted living facilities will also offer laundry service, health monitoring, day trips and more. Keep in mind, though, it’s not to be confused with major medical care. It’s exactly as the name states: assisted living. Families feel much better about an established assisted living facility because most come with around the clock security. This is a must have for millions – the peace that comes from ensuring no one gets past the guards goes both ways. With Alzheimer’s and dementia always a possibility, security can keep Mom or Dad from wandering off.

So what should you be looking for? You’ll want to know if significant physical handicaps are a problem; for instance, are wheelchairs easily accommodated? Also, don’t be afraid to inquire about continuing education or employee turnover in terms of the staff who will help see to your family member. If it seems as though new employees are in and out on a regular basis, you might want to explore that a bit deeper.

Check with the Better Business Bureau and your state’s licensing board. Does the facility conduct background checks (most do – but to varying degrees)? Are you allowed to visit any time? Is the staff willing to take you on a tour during meal time so that you can see for yourself the quality of food being served? What about pets – do they allow them?

Your biggest ally will be your elder law attorney. He or she will be the one to help guide you through the legalities of these dynamics, including Medicaid coverage and estate planning. Once you’ve explored all of your options, you should have a much better idea on what’s best for you or your family member.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Minors as Beneficiaries on Life Insurance?

Jan 31, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

Many people name their children as beneficiaries when they buy life insurance policies and then never give the matter another thought. While it seems to make sense to designate your children as beneficiaries, if you die before your children are legally adults, it could present many problems.

In most states, naming a minor as a beneficiary requires a guardian be named to administer the proceeds until that child is of legal age. If you’ve not specified a guardian, it can present a host of problems, including your family not agreeing on who that guardian should be, and when they can’t, it often means a drawn out legal battle. Your next of kin will be making decisions that you probably should have made when you named the minor as the beneficiary. In fact, it could be someone you might not would have chosen.

When a court appoints a legal guardian of the minor’s estate, that guardian will control the money for the minor’s benefit until he or she reaches the age of majority, depending on state law. Not only that, but if the minor has special needs, it could jeopardize any kind of support already in place.

Protecting the Minor

So how can you avoid these problems while also providing for a minor?

One way many families accomplish this is through a trust. A trust provides increased control over how assets can be used. It can be used to receive and distribute or manage the proceeds from a life insurance policy on behalf of the minor or the adult who has special needs. It’s designed to ensure they’re cared for without jeopardizing those funds.

There are many benefits, including the fact that you select the trustee and define the terms for how those assets can and cannot be used. You can ensure every penny goes toward the minor child or special needs adult.

Trusts are often a part of a person’s standard estate planning process. But it’s also important to remember that simply naming a beneficiary in your will is not sufficient. Among other things, the person you name in your will and the person you listed as the beneficiary on the policy may be two different people. It happens more than you might realize.

Many who purchased life insurance policies years ago might forget who they named or there might have been changes in marital status or other life events. This can cause delays and even drawn out court battles. Again, it’s important to speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure there are no red flags. The peace of mind it provides is priceless.

Other Benefits of Establishing a Trust

While this is often a sole reason for setting up a trust, there are other benefits that a trust can provide as well. An irrevocable life insurance trust can shelter the proceeds from estate taxes. After you’ve established the trust, you still own your life insurance policy and your named beneficiaries are intact; however, your estate is also better protected from estate taxes.

Further, you can often avoid probate and add an additional layer of protection for your assets and property. You can also keep privacy intact by avoiding probate hearings.

These are just a few of the reasons for establishing a trust, and for those who wish to name a minor as a beneficiary, it can help ensure the proceeds go exactly where you intended.

Contact your estate planning lawyer for more information on how to define the right trust for your unique needs.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

Legacy of Estate Planning

Jan 30, 2014  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

Simply stated, the fundamental purpose of estate planning is to leave a legacy for the living. While many of us want to avoid discussing death, we all want to leave something for our children, grandchildren and even our great grandchildren. We may wish to provide for a charity or it could be that we want to ensure our family members don’t receive any of our assets (and it happens more often than you might think). But did you know that half of all Americans have absolutely no estate plan? No powers of attorney, no trusts, no medical directives? Not only that, but they also have no burial policies or life insurance policies in place, either.

The fact is, after we’re gone, none of that matters to us, but for our loved ones, what we don’t do can mean long term repercussions. And make no mistake – estate planning isn’t reserved for those billion-dollar celebrities and politicians who’ve made their fortunes on the stock market. It’s for Aunt Louise, who worked forty years in a glove making factory and for your sister who was lucky enough to work part time as she raised her little ones and it’s for your next door neighbor, who has been disabled since the mid-1970s. It’s for all of us – and it matters.

Just the Facts, Please

As estate planning lawyers, we are often asked what the bare minimum should be when putting together an effective estate plan. While everyone’s needs are different, there are a few definitive documents that should be a part of everyone’s estate plan.

Of course, a will is usually the first thing people think of and for good reason – it’s the foundation of what happens to your assets after you die. More importantly, consider those who would legally receive your asset. Is it who you would want it to be?

Trusts are another important element of estate planning. This goes a bit more into detail regarding assets and how they’ll be distributed, what kind of taxes will be paid out of your estate and your desires on a more long term foundation. If you have minor children, a trust is a fine way to protect them and their goals to attend college, buy a home or anything else their lives may lead them to. Trusts are also established to care for a dependent adult after your death and can help ensure the monies aren’t squandered.

Discussions You Need to Have with Your Lawyer

Your estate planning attorney will discuss limitations, changes and the differences in the various trusts available. It’s impossible to provide specific details, of course, but a few scenarios are more common than others. For instance, twenty years from now, your now-adult children may be in an abusive marriage, a drug user, mentally impaired or bitterly warring with her siblings. This is where the details become so important. Covering the “what ifs” provides peace of mind on an entirely new level.

Remember, a very high percentage of marriages – currently around 47 percent – end in divorce. If you’re forced into one of the most stressful events in life, be sure to extend those changes into your retirement plans and other legal documents. You would be surprised to learn just how many ex-wives received the lion’s share of an ex-husband’s estate.

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of powers of attorney. A medical power of attorney is used to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf and a financial power of attorney allows you to name a responsible person for your financial decisions should you become incapacitated.

These are just a few of the basics, you’re always encouraged to speak with your estate planning lawyer so that a custom-tailored estate plan can be created that will protect you and your family.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

What Are SSI and SSDI?

Aug 25, 2013  /  By: Barton P. Levine, Esq.  /  Category: Uncategorized

At some point during your lifetime you will likely receive benefits from either the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program or from the Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, program. Each program has its own eligibility guidelines. In addition, the two programs offer different monetary benefits to recipients. A basic understanding of the two programs will probably come in handy at some point in your life.

The SSDI program is based on your work history not your income. Both the person who is disabled and his or her family may be entitled to receive benefits under the SSDI program.  To be entitled to benefits through the SSDI program you must first have worked and accrued enough wages during your lifetime to qualify for benefits. In addition, you must have a qualifying disability. The amount you will receive, if you are approved, will depend on how much you have accrued in covered earnings over your lifetime. If you want to know how much you have earned in covered earnings, or you want an estimate of what your benefit amount would be, you can check online through the Social Security Administration website. For 2013, the average SSDI payment is $1,132 per month. If you are approved for benefits, your spouse and/or children may also be eligible to receive benefits based on your lifetime earnings as well.

The SSI program also provides disability benefits to individuals as well as to those over the age of 65; however, unlike the SSDI program benefits under the SSI program do not depend on your work history. Instead, the SSI program is intended to assist low income individuals. To qualify for SSI benefits you must be over the age of 65, blind, or disabled AND you must meet the income and resource limits. Benefits for the SSI are program are the same nationwide except that some states add additional benefits to those provided by the federal government. The amount you receive, if your application is approved, will depend solely on your income and resources not your previous work history. The maximum SSI benefit amount for 2013 is $710 for an eligible individual, $1,066 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, and $356 for an essential person. The amount you actually receive may be less if you have any income or receive SSDI benefits. It took also be more if your state provides additional funds.

You may apply for either the SSDI or the SSI program in a variety of different ways – over the telephone, in person, or online in some cases through the Social Security Administration website.

The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.