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Redlands California Estate Planning Blog

How medical records and work history affect SSD claims

For anyone in California seeking disability payments, the first step is to file an application. This is followed by a disability interview. After an application is on file, it's sent to an agency referred to as disability determination services, or DDS. The next step in the SSD application process involves a review of medical records and work history by a disability examiner at a California Disability Determination Services Office.

A disability examiner initially starts determining eligibility for a Social Security Disability claim by gathering an applicant's medical records. This typically involves sending letters to physicians and specialists who treated the claimant along with various hospitals or medical facilities where treatment may have been provided. After all medical information is obtained, the disability examiner usually consults with a physician to determine a claimant's residual functional capacity. RFC is a measure of a claimant's physical capabilities. For instance, a doctor assigned to the case may determine how much weight a claimant can safely lift or carry. Mental abilities and limitations are assessed separately.

How to fund a trust and ensure that assets are transferred

Creating a trust can be a smart move for anyone in California who has assets they want to protect and pass on to designated beneficiaries in a way that offers protections against probate and certain taxes. After a trust is set up, the next step is to ensure it's sufficiently funded. Real estate can be handled with a deed or deed in trust that transfers a property to the established trust. It's often advisable for trust holders to determine if it's necessary to re-file with the county auditor's office to benefit from tax exemptions.

Another aspect of trusts and trust administration is the transfer of personal property. This typically includes furniture, appliances, collectibles and other items with value or sentimental meaning. An attorney may suggest funding a trust that contains these types of items with an assignment or bill of sale. Such documentation clearly indicates that personal property is being assigned to the trust.

A special needs trust can preserve benefits

A special needs trust can be established for a California resident who receives benefits through any government programs. A trust protects the beneficiary, permitting them to receive benefits and funding from the donor.

Every trust consists of a donor, trust and trustee. While the trustee holds the trust and distributes the funding in accordance with the donor's wishes, the donor submits the funding to the trust. The beneficiary is the recipient of the funding.

The importance of detailed information on SSD applications

California residents are entitled to Social Security Disability benefits based on the extent to which they are limited by a mental or physical condition. Therefore, it is important to be as specific as possible when talking to a doctor about such a condition. For instance, it may be a good idea to mention trouble with reaching or standing because of a bad back or other physical ailment during a checkup.

This may make it easier for a doctor to tell a case examiner exactly how the condition impacts an applicant. From there, an examiner can tell whether or not it will make it possible to return to a previous job or seek any type of other employment in the future. As a general rule, it will rely heavily on the opinion of a doctor or other professionals who have an understanding of a person's mental or physical condition.

Supreme Court to rule on disability case testimony

People applying for Social Security Disability benefits in California may be concerned about the role of expert witnesses in their cases, especially when an expert is providing testimony about an individual's abilities to work. This can be problematic when the experts in question have had little direct involvement or observation of the applicant's life and work experiences. In one case, an ongoing legal battle over this issue will head to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the value of expert testimony that is not backed up by supporting data in a disability case.

In the case that the Supreme Court accepted in June 2018, a man applied for disability benefits in 2009 after previously working as a carpenter and construction laborer. His application for benefits was denied in 2010 at the initial application stage and then at the appeals stage. After being denied in a hearing, he appealed to the district court, which sent the case back to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. In a new hearing, he received disability benefits but with an onset date of 2013 rather than 2009.

Applying for disability benefits

Applying for disability benefits in California, or anywhere else in the country, can be a stressful experience. By the time somebody applies for Social Security Disability Insurance, they may have spent years attempting to manage their condition. Since the application process can be slow, it's important to present the Social Security Administration with the most comprehensive documentation of the disability available.

One area of confusion is that of medical examinations. When applicants do not have records from a recent examination, they may be asked to undergo a consultative examination by an unfamiliar physician. Since this is a brief exam, it may not provide adequate documentation of the health condition or its disabling effects.

Earlier planning for long-term care critical for asset protection

You have spent your entire working life building up the value of your estate. The more assets you've acquired, the more diverse your possessions may be. In addition to equity in your home, you may have investment accounts and other valuable possessions.

If you have taken the time to create an estate plan, that probably means you have dependents or heirs to whom you would like to leave your belongings. However, if you haven't already taken steps to plan for long-term care in your final years, you could end up leaving behind nothing but a heap of bills.

Understanding the Pension Protection Act and your retirement

In 2006, the Pension Protection Act was created. The goal was to provide economic security and set minimum funding standards and funding rules for employers using pension plans with their employees. This act, which was signed into law by former President George W. Bush, required companies that underfunded pension plans to pay higher premiums. Those premiums were sent to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which then pays those entitled to pensions up to the maximum guaranteed by law when they retire at 65 years of age or older.

The PPA put into place elements that help many people prepare for retirement today. Those elements include automatic enrollment into defined contribution plans and other popular 401(k) features.

About charitable remainder trusts

California residents can include various types of trusts in their estate plan to ensure that their assets are managed and distributed in accordance with their preferences. One type of trust, a charitable remainder trust, can be used as of source of income for the donor while the remaining assets are donated to the donor's favorite charities. This irrevocable trust provides a form of control and flexibility that makes it useful for estate planning, tax management and retirement purposes.

With a charitable remainder trust, a donor will contribute to the trust and be able to take part in a partial tax deduction based on the trust assets that are intended for the charitable beneficiaries. The donor or another person would be able to receive an income stream from the trust for up to 20 years or during the lifetime of any of the non-charitable beneficiaries. Any number of charities that are named by the donor will receive whatever other donated assets that are left.

Applying for disability with limited medical records

California residents who have applied for Social Security Disability may be concerned about leaving the search for their medical records in the hands of a disability examiner. It can be unclear to many applicants what could happen if the examiner is unable to locate all of the necessary records pertaining to their cases. The answer can vary depending on the circumstances, and it can change how an applicant's case is addressed.

If the disability examiner is unable to locate the records that show that the applicant was treated for a specific condition, the examiner may schedule a consultative examination (CE). In other cases, if the examiner does not locate current medical records that are up to date, a CE can also be scheduled. In order for a Social Security Disability benefits decision to be made, the government requires current medical records that reflect the applicant's condition at the present time. This means that the information used by the government must not be more than 90 days old in order to prove that the limitations recorded continue to prevent the applicant from working.

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