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How can I use the Social Security website? Close

Social Security’s website is www.socialsecurity.gov. Like any government website, the official website of the Social Security Administration is full of helpful information. There are long lists of publications, forms and other web resources.

There are many things that can be done through Social Security online. This includes applying for benefits, appealing decisions, finding out if you can get benefits, and estimating future benefits.

The website is where folks can set up an account with Social Security. Up to 14 million people have established a personalized my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.  With an account, folks can see information from their home, office or library.

The Social Security Statement is one thing that you can get on the website. It is a good planning tool. It provides people age 18 and older with important information about their wages and taxes.

Individuals who currently receive benefits can manage their benefit payments. Folks can get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment.

You can’t apply for a card online because the Social Security office has to verify certain documents. You can, however, complete and print the application to bring to your local office.

The Social Security website has undergone changes to make it easier to read and navigate. You can find more answers by first going to the Frequently Asked Questions tab at the very top of the home page. This tab section also allows you to convert the website to its Spanish version as well.


This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Karla Perry and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

Elder Law

I need winter heating assistance – what do I do? Close

Winter heating assistance begins October 20, 2014 and continues through April 15, 2015.

Refer people in need of help paying utility bills to 2-1-1 to find a provider who accepts utility assistance applications.

Also, customers can walk-in for utility assistance at the Utilities Resource Fair, Saturday October 18, 2014 from 10 am – 2pm at West Side Community House.  Click here for more details on the Resource Fair and click here for more information about PUCOs winter reconnect program.

What are some self-help tools I can use in my legal case? Close

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland recently created a self-help section on its website to begin providing tools to people who must go to court on their own without the help of an attorney.  The tools currently available can help people with the following:

Keep checking the Cleveland Legal Aid website for more self-help tools in the coming months.   If you have questions, attend one of Legal Aid’s free brief advice clinics.  You can find a list of upcoming clinic dates and locations here: http://lasclev.org/events/category/brief-advice-clinics/

This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!


Should Seniors Be Cautious When Considering Home Repair Contracts? Close

Warn seniors to be cautious when considering home repair contracts paid for by a reverse mortgage.

In Cleveland, the Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs has received complaints from seniors who were unaware that they had signed reverse mortgages after being solicited by remodeling contractors to do work on their home. In some cases, the contractors have taken all of the proceeds from the homeowner and performed little or no work. The contractors tell seniors that there is a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program to help pay for the repairs but in fact the seniors are left with a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), commonly known as a reverse mortgage. Caution seniors NOT to rely on advice from anyone who recommends such a product or service. For additional information:

  • Consumers in the City of Cleveland with questions about possible scams can call the Office of Fair Housing and Consumer Affairs at 216-664-4529.
  • Consumers with questions about reverse mortgages can call Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland at (216) 458-4663.
  • Consumers who want to file a complaint should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Department at 1-800-282-0515 or online at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/consumercomplaint.

What should seniors be thinking about when it comes to money? Close

1. Am I eligible for any benefits?

Many benefit programs can help people who have limited income afford living expenses such as utilities, food, health care and transportation. Some of these programs are designed just for seniors and adults with disabilities. You may become eligible for programs once you reach a certain age, experience a new health condition, or lose a source of income.   The easiest way to find out what assistance you are eligible to receive is by completing a Benefit Check Up.  Seniors and adults with disabilities can contact the Aging and Disability Resource Network to complete a Benefit Check Up: 1-855-585-ADRN (2376) or go to www.benefitscheckup.org

2. Have I been a victim of identity theft?

Someone may be using your identity and ruining your credit. If identity theft continues, you could be sued by creditors and you might not be able to borrow money when you need it. You can check your credit report to find out if someone has opened accounts in your name.  Each year, you can get a free credit report from three different companies.  You should request one every 4 months from a different company. To request a credit report call Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Experian at 1-888-397-3742, or Trans Union at 1-800-680-7289.  You can also request reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com.  If your credit report shows activity that you did not authorize, follow the steps recommended by the Federal Trade Commission to report and stop identity theft.  See http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.


3. Am I financially prepared for an emergency?  

Emergencies are unpredictable but there are some things you can do to prepare yourself.

  • Keep copies of important papers such as insurance, bank account, health care and estate planning information in a safe place you can easily find them.
  • Keep some emergency money in a safe place where you can easily get it, even if you can only spare a small amount.
  • Identify a safe place you can stay temporarily if something happens and you cannot stay in your home.  Also make a plan for how you will get there.
  • If you have someone in your life you trust completely, consider sharing the above information with that person so they can help you if needed.  Do NOT share information about your finances or other important matters with anyone you do not know well and trust completely.

Planning ahead can help keep unexpected costs to a minimum during an emergency.


This article was written by Emily Mutillo from the City of Cleveland Department of Aging and appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

Elder Law

What are some common questions about Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney? Close

Q: Aren’t Living Wills or Health Care Powers of Attorney just for older people?

A: It is important for anyone over age 18 to think about filling out one or both of these documents. Serious illness or injury can strike at any stage of life. A Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney will help to ensure that your wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment are followed regardless of age, and that when you are no longer able to voice your own wishes, your prior decisions are followed or made for you by the person you choose.

Q: Can I include the fact that I wish to donate my organs after death through a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney?

A: The best way to ensure that your organs will be donated after death is to complete the Donor Registry Enrollment Form included in this packet.

Q: If I state in my Living Will that I don’t want to be hooked up to life support equipment, will I still be given medication for pain?

A: Yes. A Living Will affects only care that artificially or technologically postpones death. It would not affect care that eases pain. For example, you would continue to be given pain medication and other treatments necessary to keep you comfortable. The same is true with a Health Care Power of Attorney. The person you name to make your health care decisions would not be able to order the withholding of treatments that provide you comfort or alleviate pain.

Q: If I have a Living Will, won’t my physician be more likely to give up on me if I become really sick?

A: No. Physicians have a duty to maintain life as long as there is hope of recovery. A Living Will simply allows you to determine how much life-sustaining treatment you wish to receive in order to postpone dying once two physicians have determined that you will not recover.

Q: Which is better to have, a Living Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney?

A: Actually, it is a good idea to fill out both documents because they address different aspects of your medical care. A Living Will applies only when you are terminally ill and unable to communicate your wishes or if you are permanently unconscious. A Health Care Power of Attorney becomes effective even if you are only temporarily unconscious and medical decisions need to be made. For example, if you were to become temporarily unconscious due to an accident or surgery, the person you name in your Health Care Power of Attorney could make medical decisions on your behalf. If you have both documents and become terminally ill and unable to communicate or become permanently unconscious, the Living Will would be followed since it speaks to your wishes in these situations.

Q: When does a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney become effective?

A: A Living Will becomes effective if you are terminally ill and unable to express your wishes regarding health care or if you are permanently unconscious. In both cases, two physicians, not just one, must agree that you are beyond medical help and will not recover. If you have indicated that you do not want your dying to be artificially prolonged and two physicians say that there is no reasonable hope of recovery, your wishes will be carried out.

A Health Care Power of Attorney becomes effective whenever you lose the ability to make your own decisions, even if only temporarily. At these times, health care decisions will be made by the person you designate.

Q: Can I draft a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney that says if I become critically ill, I want everything possible done to keep me alive?

A: Yes. But you can’t use the standard forms in this packet. You would need to speak with an attorney about drafting a special document. You also may want to discuss this approach with your personal physician.

Q: If I name someone in my Health Care Power of Attorney to make decisions for me, how much authority does that person have and how can I be certain that he or she is doing what I want done?

A: The person you name as your attorney-in- fact has the authority to make decisions regarding aspects of your medical care if you become unable to express your wishes. For this reason, you should tell the person you name how you feel about life-sustaining treatment, being fed through feeding and fluid tubes, and other important issues.

Also, it is important to remember that a Health Care Power of Attorney is not the same as a financial Power of Attorney, which you might use to give someone authority over your financial or business affairs.

Q: If my condition becomes hopeless, can I specify that I want my feeding and fluid tubes removed?

A: Special instructions are needed to allow for the removal of feeding or fluid tubes if you become permanently unconscious and if the feeding and fluid tubes aren’t needed to provide you with comfort.

If you want to make certain that the tubes are removed should you become permanently unconscious, you need to place your initials on the space provided on the Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney form. If you don’t want the tubes removed when you are permanently unconscious, then don’t initial the forms.

Q: Do I have to use the standard forms for a Living Will or Health Care Power of Attorney or can I draw up my own documents?

A: These forms (click here to access details), which were produced jointly by the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio Hospice & Palliative Care Organization, comply with the requirements of Ohio law, but you do not have to use these forms. You may wish to consult an attorney for assistance in drafting a document or you may draft your own. However, in either case, the documents must comply with the specific language spelled out in the Ohio Revised Code.

I am a senior and a homeowner. Are there any special tax breaks for me? Close

Ohio’s Homestead Exemption exempts the first $25,000 of the value of your home from being taxed.     For example, a home that is worth $100,000 will be taxed as if it were worth $75,000.   On average people who qualify save $400 a year.

Who is eligible?   Homeowners who:

  1. Are 65 years old or will turn 65 this year, or
  2. Were permanently and totally disabled on or before the 1st day of the year in which they file, or
  3. Are the surviving spouse of a person who was already enrolled in Homestead, and the survivor was at least 59 years old when the spouse died.

What property is eligible for the exemption?

  1. The property must be the place where you live most of the time, and
  2. You must have been living there as of January 1st, and
  3. Your name must be on the deed; if the property is held in a trust, you must have a copy of the trust.

You must apply for the exemption by June 3, 2013.   (A late application can also be filed for last year.)

If you apply based on your AGE, you must have PROOF OF AGE.   For proof, you can use things like a driver’s license (current or expired), State of Ohio ID card, birth certificate or passport (current or expired).

If you apply based on DISABILITY, you must have PROOF OF DISABILITY.   For proof, you can give things like the Auditor’s Certificate of Disability form signed by your doctor OR a statement from Social Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Railroad Retirement Board, or the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation finding you to be totally and permanently disabled.

If you are found to be eligible, you do not have to re-apply in future years.

To get an application form, more information and help, call your county Auditor’s Homestead Department:

  • In Cuyahoga County, call 216.443.7101
  • In Ashtabula County, call 440.576.3793
  • In Lake County, call 440.350.2536
  • In Geauga County, call 440.279.1617
  • In Lorain County, call 440.329.5207

This article was written by Legal Aid attorney Marley Eiger and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 1. Click here to read the full issue.

What should I know about pre-paid debit cards? Close

People are swiping more at the checkout line, and they are not using a traditional credit or debit card. Millions of consumers are now using prepaid debit cards to make payments. Prepaid cards are debit cards without a bank account attached. Cards provide instant benefits to customers including access to a wide array of ATM networks, faster payment, and less of a need to carry cash.

The speedy growth in the prepaid debit card market is due to several needs. First, nearly 30 percent of Ohioans are under-banked. This means either they have no bank account or they have an account but use check cashers and fringe lenders. These cards fill some of that void. Second, cards reduce costs to employers and government agencies. It is cheaper and quicker to use a debit card than to produce a paper check. Ohio has moved to cards (if direct deposit is not used) for unemployment and food assistance. Social Security, if not direct deposited, is now also provided on debit cards. Nevertheless, there are some costs to the consumer. Consumer advocates have rightful concerns about the fees on these cards and how much the user knows about them. Some cards charge for basic services like monthly access and ATM fees. Additional fees include overdraft, replacement, paper statements, customer service calls, and load fees. A major concern is that some cards have a point-of-sale transaction fee, meaning a charge “per” swipe. The overall concern is that fees will add up and reduce the overall benefit of the card.

Perhaps the largest challenge for clients entering the field of prepaid debit cards is the abundance of choices. There are hundreds of different cards with different fee structures. Greater openness is needed so that customers can compare cards to each other. A nonprofit research group, CFSI, designed a disclosure box that is an excellent way for customers to understand the costs of a card and compare it to others (see below).

Some advice for card shopping includes:

  • Stay away from celebrity-branded cards, which often have higher fees;
  • Avoid cards with overdraft fees and lines of credit;
  • Determine what functions are of interest to identify the best card; and
  • Direct deposit into a bank account is almost always the best option.

This FAQ was written by David Rothstein of Policy Matters Ohio and the New America Foundation,    and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

I receive my Social Security, SSI or other benefit payments through checks: how will the 2013 policy changes affect me? Close

If you, a friend, or family member is getting Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or any federal payment, it is likely that you get them electronically. However, many people still get benefits and other payments with a paper check.

Soon, people will not be able to get a paper check in the mail. By March 1, 2013, nearly all federal payments will be made electronically. This will include Social Security and SSI benefits.

People will be given two ways to receive their benefits. One choice will be direct deposit to the person’s bank or credit union account. The federal check then will go straight into the person’s account on payment day each month.

Another way to get a payment will be with a direct express debit card account. Money would be put on the card’s account on payment day each month. Payments will then be available for the person to make purchases and get cash back with purchases. To learn more about direct express go to www.GoDirect.org.

People who still get paper checks now need to change the way their payments come to them. The change can be made at the local federal benefit agency office, on line at www.GoDirect.org or by calling the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center at 800.333.1795. For direct deposit, people can also make the change at their bank or credit union.

People who are just applying for benefits will not be able to get paper checks. They will only be able to receive federal benefit payments electronically. Their choice will be to get their payments by direct deposit or on the direct express card. When they apply, they will have to choose one of these ways for payment. If they want to choose direct deposit, they will have to provide their bank or credit union account information.

The government said it made the change from paper checks because it is safer and easier. It also saves taxpayers money and is good for the environment.

This FAQ was written by Legal Aid attorney Karla Perry,    and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

Do seniors qualify for food assistance? Close

Many seniors struggle to pay bills while on a fixed income. They might have to choose between buying food or medication. Under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), seniors may qualify for food stamps (now called “food assistance”) to help buy food.

In Ohio, a person can apply for food assistance at the local County Department of Job and Family Services. They can apply in-person, by phone, or on line. If you apply by phone, you will be mailed an application that same day. Later, you will need to have a face-to-face interview with your caseworker. You will also have to give proof of your income and bills (e.g. rent and utilities receipts, bank statements). It is important that you mail, fax, or deliver these papers as soon as possible.

Whether you can receive food assistance depends upon:

  • the number of people in your household,
  • your income, and
  • your resources (such as cash, savings and checking accounts).

Your income must be below a certain limit. A special income rule applies to elderly or disabled persons. The county will not look at your “gross” income, but will subtract certain expenses (such as heating and cooling expenses, mortgage or rent, and medical expenses), and use this “net” income to decide if you qualify.

A household with an elderly member (over 60 years old) can have up to $3,000 in resources. Household goods, most retirement plans, and the home you live in are not counted as a resource.

If you are approved, you will receive an “electronic benefits transfer” (EBT) card. Shopping with the card is like shopping with a bank debit or ATM card. You can buy food or food-related products, including seeds and plants to grow food. You cannot buy alcohol, tobacco, or vitamins. In 2012, a single senior can receive as much as $200 per month for food assistance. A household of two can receive up to $367 every month.

If you think you might qualify, you can do a quick check and apply at Ohio’s Benefit Bank online at www.thebenefitbank.com. You can also call your County Department of Job and Family Services or apply online at https://odjfsbenefits.ohio.gov.

This FAQ was written by Legal Aid attorney Deborah Dallman,    and appeared as a story in Volume 28, Issue 3 of “The Alert” – a newsletter for seniors published by Legal Aid. Click here to read the full issue.

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