Clients who have increasingly disabling health problems must address emotional and financial questions such as: Will it hurt their health if they stop working, and what is the timing when they maximize pension and retirement benefits but at the same time don’t forgo rights to disability compensation?
When her client was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Evelyn M. Zohlen says that she began to explore financial planning challenges that she had never previously considered, recognizing that the skill set she has as an advisor makes her suited to help the client face hard questions.
“We are good at data-gathering and assessing the situation. If we don’t have the answer, we usually know where to ask,” says Zohlen, the founder and president of Inspired Financial in Huntington Beach, Calif.
For clients trying to plan for retirement but who must seek accommodation for their disabilities, advisors may help them work with employers. Usually, employers must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and therefore are required to consider making changes to help disabled employees continue working.
Among the most unbiased places for advisors to gather data about what the ADA allows is the Job Accommodation Network (askjan.org), which is provided as a service of the Department of Labor.
The decision about when a client should seek short- or long-term disability hinges on medical concerns. But to help clients make the best decisions, advisors should also calculate cash flow under alternative scenarios.
Some employer-provided disability insurance plans allow a disabled employee to receive two-thirds of their pay for up to three years. One pivotal question to address is will the employee while on temporary disability continue to vest in employer’s retirement plans?
For some clients who are close to retirement and who have health conditions that are expected to worsen, the calculations will likely push in the direction of applying for the benefits. Although the employee will forsake perhaps one-third of his or her salary, that cost won’t trump the benefits of having time to attend to health needs and not allowing conditions to decline under the stress of working.
But, for other clients, if their health allows them to continue earning income, they may opt to continue and use the opportunity to increase their contributions to retirement accounts because their earning power may slacken.
Also exiting a job early often leads to other concerns.
“There is a huge emotional impact losing your [job] earlier than you thought you were going to,” says Benjamin Birken, an advisor at Woodward Financial Advisors in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Clients who face disabilities also should re-assess their life expectancies and adjust accordingly such decisions as when and how to start drawing from retirement resources such as Social Security and defined-benefit plans.
A client who may have planned to delay signing up for Social Security may reconsider following news about the onset of a disabling illness.
Similarly, lump sums, rather than annuities may be the better benefit option with a retirement plan, Zohlen says.
Miriam Rozen is a staff writer for Texas Lawyer who writes about financial advisors.
This story is part of a 30-day series on retirement planning strategies.