News & Resources: Blog

Government Programs for Seniors

Published: November 3, 2022

Seniors in the United States are experiencing financial insecurity due to current inflationary pressures. Aside from cutting back on unnecessary expenses, many retirees or near retirement individuals should look to existing government programs to possibly qualify to receive assistance and reduce the anxiety many Americans feel living on a fixed income.

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) works with thousands of national and local partners to provide tools, resources, advocacy, and best practices for every aging American to have health and financial security. Checking out if you qualify for senior benefits through government programs is easy to do with NCOA’s online BenefitsCheckUp tool.

Wasted Benefits

Every year billions of available dollars in US benefits programs are not claimed because older adults (55 or more) are unsure if they are eligible and, if so, how to apply. No registration is necessary, and requests for information are minimal. Personal data entered into the website will remain confidential, and accessing the database costs nothing. If you hate filling out forms and get confused by all the questions, estate planning and elder law attorneys go through this process every day. Contact them for help. There is rarely an upfront cost for legal help, and you will be in a much better financial position once you begin receiving assistance.

The Online Benefits Check Up

If you complete the benefits check-up online, NCOA will send a confidential report to your mailing address listing the help available to you and how to apply for it. Since 2001 this NCOA program has helped millions of older adults receive help paying for medicine, food, utilities, and more. More than 2,000 benefits programs are in the check-up system, including categories such as:

  • Food and nutrition
  • Health care and medication
  • Housing and utilities
  • Income
  • In-home care and aging in place
  • Disability services
  • Skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care environments
  • Tax help
  • Legal, crisis, and general assistance
  • Veterans’ programs
  • Discounts and activities

The online BenefitsCheckUp site helps older individuals identify the federal and state assistance programs for which they can qualify. This NCOA website is newly revamped and permits error corrections and the addition of information if you feel the need to revise your answers. The resulting online individualized Eligibility Results report can be saved in a PDF format to email to yourself, your lawyer, or a trusted family member.

Providing this eligibility information to your elder law or estate planning attorney is a smart strategy. Suppose you already receive disability benefits through SSDI, SSI, or other programs. In that case, adding other government assistance programs may result in unintended and negative consequences that may render you ineligible for benefits you already receive. Your lawyer will know the strategies already in place and how additional programs may affect your current planning.

The chart above shows how many older adults struggled to manage basic expenses even before the inflationary circumstances of late 2021 – 2022 (and predicted beyond). Participation rates in government assistance programs are at a historic low, with a mere low to mid sixty percent of eligible individuals participating.

Benefit take-up rates are low due to program enrollment barriers. Many older adults lack awareness that these benefits exist, and when they do, the application process for many programs can be cumbersome and complex. Additionally, perceived stigma about receiving government assistance and other program misconceptions contribute to lower participation rates.

Ramsey Alwin, NCOA CEO and President, admits, “In today’s economy, inflation is taking a bigger and bigger bite out of people’s incomes.” He adds, “We completely redesigned BenefitsCheckUp to make it even easier … no one should have to choose between paying for medications or food.”

To worry less and age better with more resources at your disposal, explore the NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp website and learn what is available to you. Before you use the contact information to take the next step to apply, be certain to consult with your elder law or estate planning attorney. All assistance you receive should not interfere with existing plans and help you age successfully. More than 2,000 government benefits programs are available to help you, and it can make the difference between thriving or just surviving. If you have questions or would like to discuss your legal matters, please do not hesitate to contact our office at 215-364-1111 to schedule a consultation.

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It is important to plan your estate to ensure that your assets, interests, and those you love will be protected after your death. However, without proper guidance and advice from a qualified estate planning attorney, many individuals make costly mistakes. Beyond undermining your intent and diminishing your financial legacy, poor planning can create additional stress to your heirs in their time of grief.

Six common errors frequently happen during the estate planning process. These mistakes often occur because the complete financial picture was not fully considered. It is easiest to avoid estate planning mishaps by knowing what they are before you begin or looking for these errors when reviewing and updating your plan.

Financial procrastination causes problems. While examining your mortality and making end-of-life preparations is not a particularly fun activity, try viewing it as helping and enhancing your loved ones' future lives while creating a sense of peace during your own. 

The need to protect your finances using wills, trusts, and power of attorney (POA) documents is not solely the domain of the elderly. Putting off the drafting of legal documents necessary to protect yourself and your inheritors can lead to disastrous outcomes.

By far, failing to create an estate plan is the most common mistake. Even if you do not have a lot of money, you need a will to protect any minor children you have by naming their guardians. Your will also ensures your asset distribution to heirs is carried out according to your intentions when you die and names a representative to handle debt obligations, final taxes, and other estate administrative duties. Dying without a will or "intestate" can lead to dire consequences.

Outdated wills, forms, and POAs create problems. If you made a will twenty years ago and have not reviewed and updated its contents, chances are many of the details no longer reflect current assets or beneficiaries. Estate planning is not a "set it and forget it" proposition. Reviewing estate planning documents and beneficiary forms every two years is generally adequate, barring a major life change such as divorce, birth, death, remarriage, or relocation to another state.

Beneficiaries without coordination can create expensive oversight. Beneficiary forms for retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, annuities, and life insurance policies may constitute a significant portion of your estate's assets. These beneficiary forms are legally binding and will supersede the contents of your will. Failure to update beneficiary forms can lead to an ex-spouse receiving assets that preferably would go to your heirs. Routine checks of all beneficiary designations are best practices for estate planning.

Failing to title trust assets properly can lead to probate. While not everyone requires a trust, those who do must carefully retitle their assets into the name of the trust. Forgetting to add more recently purchased property or opening a new account requires you to title them into the trust to receive trust benefits. Whether real estate, cash, mutual funds, or stocks, if you fail to move the asset into the trust, they become subject to the probate court, possible tax consequences (depending on the trust type), and a public record of these assets.

Life insurance can trigger estate tax. Life insurance can provide heirs with liquidity without the sale of assets and tax consequences when handled correctly. However, if a wealthy individual dies while maintaining ownership of their life insurance policy, they may inadvertently create a tax event for their heirs. Although life insurance death benefits are not subject to state or federal income taxes, any "incident" of ownership by the decedent can create an inheritance tax.

An estate planning attorney can help shelter life insurance proceeds from high-value estates by gifting the policy to an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) or draft a new trust to purchase a new policy where the trust is the owner and beneficiary. A policy owned by the trust does not create a taxable situation to death benefits. Your attorney's careful structuring of this trust type is complex but can provide proper protection.

Joint ownership of assets with your children can lead to disastrous consequences. Naming your children as co-owners of assets, even digital, permits their creditors to access your money. The better way to address the situation is to give your adult child power of attorney and assign them as a beneficiary to a payable on death bank or brokerage account. This tactic permits them to access your funds if required during your lifetime. However, it keeps your assets from your child's estate and away from their potential creditors.

Ultimately the biggest error you can make is not finding the right estate planning attorney to guide you. This specialized attorney receives training on avoiding probate, tax implications, and asset protection if you require long-term care. Proper planning with the right guidance will help you avoid costly estate planning mistakes and protect your family's future financial well-being.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your legal matters, please do not hesitate to contact our office at 215-364-1111 to schedule a consultation.

- Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

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