If you've spent years as a stay-at-home spouse or parent, taking care of the domestic duties and keeping the household running along smoothly while your spouse earned the bulk of the family's income, you may be concerned and even feel adrift when your spouse develops an illness or suffers an injury that leaves him or her unable to work for the foreseeable future. Even households with adequate savings can feel the pinch when retirement (especially involuntary retirement) comes a decade or two too soon, and even if you're able to return to work and earn enough to keep the household afloat going forward, you may still need to fund in-home care services to provide assistance to your disabled spouse while you're not around. Read on to learn more about what you can do to preserve your joint financial future and transition into early retirement with as little upheaval as possible.
What should your first steps be when dealing with income loss due to disability?
Your first step in shoring up your financial ship after a disability should be to investigate the availability of disability benefits for your spouse. These benefits can help replace at least a portion of your spouse's lost income and may also come with low- or no-cost insurance that will defray the expenses of any needed therapies or treatments.
If your spouse has been working and paying into Social Security most of his or her life, it's likely he or she will qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) rather than Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Unlike SSI, which is a means-tested and subsistence-level payment designed to keep disabled adults with little work history from becoming homeless, SSDI is a disability benefit based (like Social Security retirement) on the amount of income the disabled individual has earned over his or her life. Often, spouses who spent years earning a steady and higher-than-average wage can recoup a sizable portion of their pre-injury salary through SSDI benefits.
After qualifying for and receiving SSDI benefits for two years, your spouse will also qualify for Medicare hospital and medical insurance (parts A and B)—even if he or she hasn't yet reached retirement age. This coverage can significantly defray the costs associated with your spouse's disability and treatment, minimizing the risk that you'll be on the hook for a hefty hospital bill or procedure while already suffering a loss of income.
What else can you do to protect and preserve your financial future?
In many cases, the former breadwinning spouse was also the source of health insurance—and while Medicare can help step in and cover these costs for the disabled individual after a couple of years, as the spouse, you may feel left out in the cold. Your best step when dealing with this transition is to seek the advice and counsel of a certified financial planner (CFP). This planner can provide a holistic view of your full financial picture—from real estate holdings to retirement accounts—and can help you and your spouse apply for additional benefits, seek out inexpensive health insurance, or even determine from which retirement accounts funds should be drawn to best preserve your capital for the future.
For example, if you've spent years putting funds into a Health Savings Account (HSA) and have left this money in the market to grow, you may be able to withdraw a portion of these funds tax-free to reimburse yourself for any out-of-pocket medical expenses you and your spouse paid over the years that weren't itemized on your federal income taxes. Once you've officially been "reimbursed," you can then use these HSA funds to pay your own healthcare expenses or even purchase health insurance on the open market. Your CFP may also recommend switching to more conservative investments in order to preserve capital and keep your assets from bouncing around in a particularly volatile stock market. Find a consultant through a website like http://globalwealthconsultants.com.