Ask Carrie: Carrie Schwab Pomerantz - The Personal Side of Money

Suddenly Alone—Where Can You Turn for Help?
by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CFP®, President, Charles Schwab Foundation; Senior Vice President, Schwab Community Services, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.
September 9, 2009


Dear Carrie:
 
My husband died recently, and it’s just me now. Who will look out for me if I have issues with Medicare or Social Security?

A Reader

Dear Reader,

My heart goes out to you as you adjust to the loss of your husband. The death of a loved one can make everything else pale in significance. But as your question implies, you still need to deal with the practical and financial issues in life and those can seem a lot more difficult when facing them alone.

At this time, it’s really important to reach out to friends, family and trusted advisors who perhaps can help you see things more clearly and prioritize what you need to do to make sure you remain financially secure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—and don’t let yourself become isolated. There are lots of community services available if you know where to look for them. For my part, I can provide a few insights and point you toward some resources.

Answering Social Security and Medicare questions
Let’s start with Social Security and Medicare, since you mention them. As a widow, if you’re at full retirement age as defined by the Social Security Administration, you qualify for 100% of your husband’s benefits. If you’re younger, benefits are graduated by age and work status. (Of course, if your own benefit is higher, you should take that.)

The SSA can give you detailed information on what you need to provide to get your husband’s benefits (e.g., a death certificate, your marriage certificate, and Social Security numbers for both of you) and will work with you to assure you receive the maximum you’re entitled to. You can find specifics on how to apply at ssa.gov  or by calling 1-800-772-1213. You can also contact your local Social Security office.

Generally, you’re eligible for Medicare if you or your husband worked for at least 10 years in Medicare-covered employment, you’re 65 or older and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If you have questions, there are two primary sources of information:
  • For eligibility, enrolling or applying for the Extra Help benefit available under the prescription drug program if your income is low, contact the Social Security Administration at the number and website above.
  • For covered medical services, choosing a Medicare part D drug plan or finding a local doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare patients, contact the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (1-800-633-4227 or medicare.gov).
Finding someone to help you
Granted, dealing with these agencies can seem a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, there are organizations that can help you.

One good place to start could be the Area Agencies on Aging. Chances are there’s a local branch in your community. These agencies are dedicated to helping seniors get assistance with healthcare, homecare, transportation and more. Many offer specific help with Medicare and Medicaid issues and provide volunteer counselors and community education programs.

To find out what’s offered in your community, you might first contact your county’s Department of Health and Human Services, which likely has a division on aging and adult services. They can direct you to specific programs.

There are also a number of websites dedicated to senior care issues, such as the Administration on Aging and the Family Caregiver Alliance. Both provide online tools for finding local resources and support services, as well as information on government health and disability programs, legal resources and more.

I don’t know what your living arrangements are, but if you’re in a position to consider an active adult/senior community, this might make sense. These retirement-oriented communities offer access to a wide variety of resources from job counseling to legal services.

Speaking of legal services, another option is to find an attorney who specializes in senior issues and understands how to navigate through the maze of government agencies. This may be more costly—and you want to make sure you get an attorney who is highly recommended. The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys has an online locator that can provide a starting point for finding a qualified attorney in your area.

Moving forward with your financial life
I know it’s not easy, but it’s very important that you now take a close look at your new financial reality. You don’t have to do it alone. You can discuss it with your family or seek out a financial advisor if you don’t already have one. Talk about how your lifestyle may change. Go over your saving and spending needs and assess your current situation and goals as you look ahead. The key is to stay active and involved, reach out, and in some ways be your own advocate. By doing so, you may find that you have more of a support system than you imagined—one that can help you move forward with confidence.


The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The type of securities and investment strategies mentioned may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review a security transaction and investment strategy for his or her own particular situation. Data contained here is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

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The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner or investment manager.

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