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Power of Attorney is Powerless with Social Security
Q: I have been granted "power of attorney" to handle my brother's affairs. But when I went to my local Social Security office to take care of some of his Social Security business, they wouldn't help me. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and she said she couldn't help me either. Why won't the Social Security Administration recognize my power of attorney status?
A: Social Security law says you can represent your brother and take care of his Social Security business only if a doctor or some other medical professional will sign a statement indicating that he is mentally incapable of handling his own Social Security affairs. The Social Security Administration will appoint you to be what they call his "representative payee" — if you complete an application form with them and get the signed statement from a doctor.
They do not recognize "power of attorney" because the rules for that designation are much more lenient and don't necessarily involve the concept of mental incapability. For example, when my mom was still alive, she was living with my sister. And because my mom had some fairly severe physical complications (she was pretty much confined to my sister's home), my sister was granted "power of attorney" status, so she could do things like sign checks for my mom, pay her bills and handle her banking. But mentally, my mother was just fine. So, she still took care of her Social Security matters and other legal affairs.
In your case, it may very well be that your brother is mentally incapable of taking care of his Social Security business. But the power of attorney designation you have doesn't prove that. You should file that representative payee application at your local Social Security office.
Q: I am 70 years old. I was getting my own Social Security retirement benefit — about $1,400 per month. Then a few months ago, my husband died and I started getting widow's benefits that equal his rate, which is $2,000 per month. I am still working. In the past, I got a small increase in my retirement benefit each year because of my extra earnings.
Now that I'm getting widow's benefits, will I keep getting those increases for my earnings?
A: This is going to be one of those wishy-washy "yes and no" answers.
You said that since your husband died, you've been receiving widow's benefits of $2,000 per month. But on Social Security's books, what you're actually getting is your own $1,400 retirement benefit and a widow's supplement of $600 to take you up to your husband's Social Security rate.
As you keep working and adding money to your Social Security record, those extra earnings will continue to bump up your own Social Security benefit — to the tune of maybe an extra $20 per month added to your checks for each year you keep working. So, let's say your own retirement benefit goes up to $1,420 next year. Well, then your widow's supplement will go down to $580, since your total benefits must still add up to the $2,000 per month level.
So, if you are working just to increase your Social Security benefit, you should quit your job tomorrow. But if you're working because you enjoy what you're doing and you like the money you're making, then — as they say — "you go girl!"
Q: I am 62 and still making $70,000 per year. I don't think I'm eligible for Social Security because I make too much money. But I want to lock in my Social Security benefit amount. How should I do this?
A: You really don't "lock in" your Social Security amount — at least not in the conventional sense of the term. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why you are even considering this. As long as you keep working, your eventual Social Security benefit rate has only one way to go — and that's up. In other words, as you keep adding earnings to your Social Security account, especially at the level of income you said you're making, your benefit amount will just keep ratcheting upward. I'm guessing that each year you keep working, you're adding an extra $20 to $40 per month to your Social Security benefit. So, just put that concept of "locking in" your Social Security benefit out of your mind.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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