Will the Pandemic Affect My Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Social Security Shocker: Pandemic to Reduce Benefits by 9% for Americans Turning 60 in 2020” explains that retirees can mitigate some of the damage, by waiting to claim their benefits. For every year you delay benefits past your full retirement age until age 70, you’ll receive an increased benefit of about 8%.

Eligibility for Social Security benefits requires a senior to have earned no less than 40 “credits.” You can earn up to four credits a year, so it takes 10 years of work to qualify for Social Security benefits. In 2020, you have to earn $1,410 to get one Social Security work credit and $5,640 to get the maximum four credits for the year.

Your benefit is based on the 35 years in which you earned the most amount of money. If you have fewer than 35 years of earnings, each year with no earnings is calculated as a zero. You can increase your benefit by swapping out those zero years, by working longer, even if it’s only part-time. However, don’t worry about a low-earning year replacing a higher-earning year. It won’t happen. The benefit isn’t based on 35 consecutive years of work, it’s based on your highest-earning 35 years. As a result, if you decide to ease into retirement by working part-time, you won’t wreck the amount of your Social Security benefit at all, if you have 35 years of higher earnings. If you earn more money, however, your benefit will be adjusted upward—despite the fact that you’re still working while taking your benefit.

There is a maximum benefit amount you can get. However, it depends on your age when you retire. If you retire at full retirement age this year, the maximum monthly benefit is $3,790.

In the past, a great perk of Social Security benefits was that every year, the government would adjust the benefit for inflation. This is called a cost-of-living adjustment, or “COLA.” It’s an inflation protection to help seniors keep up with rising living expenses during retirement.

The COLA is automatic and is quite valuable because purchasing inflation protection on a private annuity can be expensive.

The COLA is calculated based on changes in a federal consumer price index (CPI). The amount of the COLA depends largely on broad inflation levels determined by the federal government.

For 2021, Kiplinger anticipates that there won’t be a Social Security cost of living adjustment. That is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 30, 2020) “Social Security Shocker: Pandemic to Reduce Benefits by 9% for Americans Turning 60 in 2020”

Is Your Estate Plan COVID-19-Ready?

 

Even if you have done comprehensive estate planning with the guidance of a qualified attorney, you may want to re-evaluate certain elements of your plan now, through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Reviewing your estate plan with an attorney will provide guidance and piece of mind that your affairs are in order.

Why make changes? There are two uniquely challenging aspects of this pandemic that your current plan may not adequately address.

  1. Medical treatment for severe cases of COVID-19 frequently involves intubation and ventilator therapy to combat respiratory failure, and
  2. Quarantine and isolation orders blocking hospital visitors create some communication barriers between patients, doctors and family members.

So, how might these unique challenges impact your estate plan?

Living Wills. If your living will contains a blanket prohibition on intubation, you may want to reconsider that decision.

Durable Powers of Attorney (DPOA). Given the communication difficulties that may arise when a patient is hospitalized during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to revisit the terms of your DPOA to make it easier for your agent to act on your behalf.

Health Care Power of Attorney. A health care power of attorney allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent for medical decisions. Under normal circumstances, this person would likely confer with your attending physicians in person and again, these in-person communications may be difficult right now. You want to add language to expressly authorize electronic communication with your agent.

The attorneys of the Law Office of Michael T. Huguelet, P.C. focus primarily in this area of the law and can advise you on whether your current estate plan accurately represents your wishes during this uniquely challenging time.  Our offices are open and ready to assist you with preparing a new estate plan or tailoring an update to your estate plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resource: ElderLawAnswers, Three Changes You May Want to Make to Your Estate Plan Now Due to the Pandemic, April 30, 2020