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Redlands California Estate Planning Blog

Heart attacks and Social Security disability claims

A California resident who has suffered a heart attack may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. However, the final answer isn't all that straightforward. The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers someone disabled if they are unable to work or obtain gainful employment for at least 12 months; or if they expect not to be able to do so for the next year for medical reasons.

While a heart attack is certainly a medical issue, it's not always enough to be considered for Social Security disability. A minor heart attack that causes little or no permanent damage, for example, isn't likely to be reason enough to approve a claim. However, if what's medically termed a myocardial infarction (MI) results in long-term physical limitations and reduces an applicant's residual functional capacity level -- the SSA's measure of someone's level of functionality -- the claim may be approved.

The surviving spouse needs to make important decisions

For California couples who have been farsighted enough to establish an estate plan, there comes a well-deserved peace of mind that their assets will be handled well after their deaths. While no one escapes their own mortality, having properly executed legal documents in place necessary to handle the transition when the time comes is reassuring. However, estate planning is not a one-and-done proposition; major life changes necessitate reviewing and sometimes altering one's plan.

Experts recommend reviewing estate documents every two years or when a life-changing event occurs. The death of a spouse is such an event. Although shock and grief can be paralyzing, it is imperative for a surviving spouse to not only review the documents but to make appropriate changes as soon as possible.

Clarifying the definition of "disability" for SSD purposes

California residents who are unable to work may be allowed to collect Social Security Disability benefits if they meet strict criteria. For instance, they will need to show that their disabilities will last for at least a year or cause death. Furthermore, they will need to show that they cannot do any type of work because of a mental or physical condition.

To determine if a person meets the standards to be considered disabled, information is collected for a variety of sources. Generally, an examiner will ask an applicant's doctor or other treatment providers about that person's condition. The examiner will ask questions about how a condition specifically interferes with the applicant's ability to live or work normally. If there isn't enough information to make a clear decision, an individual will be asked to attend an examination that the government pays for.

Social Security Disability reconsiderations

The majority of disability applicants in California and the rest of the United States will see their application denied. In fact, records show that 65 percent of people who apply for disability benefits are denied. As a result, these individuals have to decide if they want to go through the process of appealing their denied benefits claim.

The approval rate for reconsideration appeals, which is the next step to take if a disability claim has been denied, is also very low. The average approval rate for the nation ranges from 10 to 15 percent. However, applicants can take some comfort in their reconsideration denials, as it means that they will be able to have their case heard before an administrative law judge.

How representation can affect a disability claim

When people in California file for Social Security Disability, they may be tempted to go it alone; after all, the administrative law proceedings that come even with the last appeal in the process allow applicants to represent themselves. However, when people are represented by a disability attorney at a hearing, they are far more likely to successfully receive benefits and win their appeal.

While people can represent themselves at disability hearings, the likelihood of success is directly affected by making a proper, fully informed presentation of all arguments, documents and materials. A disability attorney may have years of experience in Social Security law and be well versed in how to present a case in order to prove why an applicant should receive benefits.

The importance of creating an estate plan

Aretha Franklin died without a will or any sort of estate plan in place despite being worth an estimated $80 million at the time of her death. California residents may be able to learn something from the problems that this may create for her heirs. Her sons have listed themselves as interested parties to the estate and chose Franklin's niece to become the personal representative to the estate.

According to an attorney who represented Franklin, failing to leave a will tends to result in family members fighting with each other. This has been the case since Robin Williams passed as his children and third wife are still trying to determine how to settle his estate. Franklin's attorney also said that he tried to get Franklin to create a trust as it could have made settling the estate easier.

The decision makers who deal with SSDI benefits applications

When Californians apply for Social Security disability benefits, they may wonder who is responsible for the outcome. After the necessary documents are filed, a claims representative from the Social Security Administration completes the application by obtaining medical information, dates of treatment and other details from the applicant. The representative will also take information about the work the applicant performed over the last 15 years, including the employers, titles and types of jobs a person had during that time.

Once the Social Security Disability Insurance folder is completed, the state agency that makes determinations will take charge of the case. A disability examiner will be assigned to the application; this person evaluates medical records and work histories against Social Security's rules for gauging disability and eligibility for benefits. The examiner will acquire the applicant's medical records from the physicians, hospitals and clinics provided by the applicant. Medical professionals who work with the disability agency may also be engaged to assess the records provided. On this basis, the disability examiner will make a decision about whether or not to approve an applicant.

Starting the application process for SSD benefits

People in California who are applying for Social Security Disability benefits may wonder how to enhance their filing in order to maximize their chances of being approved earlier in the process. While it can be difficult to predict how an application will move forward, there are some steps that people can take to help the process proceed smoothly. First, making a claim can be lengthy and time-consuming because it can involve appointments, months of waiting, appeals and further actions; for this reason, it is important to move quickly when filing.

This is especially true when people have severe impairments that make it difficult or impossible for them to work and earn a living wage, the same factors that prompted them to apply for SSD benefits in the first place. Sometimes, people delay making an application because the entire process can be daunting and intimidating, especially if people are also struggling with their conditions. Some people may also think that their condition could improve and the application could be unnecessary. However, in many cases, a disabling condition will only grow more troublesome.

You may need to draft a spendthrift trust for some of your heirs

Redlands residents who are doing their estate planning frequently encounter a dilemma. They may have one or more heirs who, over the years, has proven to be incapable of managing their own fiscal affairs responsibly.

Sometimes this may be due to drug or alcohol abuse or a weakness for sports betting or the track, but other times it appears to be an inherent inability to make wise financial decisions. These potential heirs may have a past littered with multiple bankruptcies and failed business opportunities.

Why appealing a disability denial is important

When Californians apply for disability benefits and are denied, they may wonder about their next steps forward. Some may want to file a new claim; however, it's generally better to file an appeal and move forward in the process. Approximately 65 percent of all disability claims are denied at the initial application stage. This means that one of the most important aspects of pursuing an approval is to move ahead with an appeal.

People who file a new claim for Social Security Disability Insurance instead are unlikely to find improved chances of success. The claim would return to the same agency and probably face the same determination, even if the case is assigned to a different individual examiner. However, while appealing is strongly in most applicants' interest, the first stage of the appeals process may provide little relief. At the reconsideration appeals stage, 85 percent of claims are denied, and the decisions generally reiterate the reasoning of the initial denial.

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