Social Security Statement in Divorce Financial Planning?

Social Security

An individual’s Social Security Statement can be a valuable resource in your divorce financial planning. Make sure to gather copies of the most recent statements available and we can help you uncover a wealth of financial knowledge.

1. Earnings and employment history.

The Social Security Statement is a great place to look for historical employment earnings. It is valuable to understand the earnings history and trajectory of both parties in a divorce. If tax returns and other documentation are being with-held by your spouse the Social Security statement can provide a valuable baseline.

2. Estimated retirement and disability benefits for long term, post divorce financial planning purposes.

Understanding the long term cash flow is very important when negotiating a financial settlement. Having details of the Social Security administration’s estimated benefits can help me understand your future cash flow and plan more effectively for the future.

3. If there is a public pension.

A worker who participates in California State Teacher’s Retirement System (STRS), California Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) and many other governmental retirement systems may not have paid into the Social Security system. Some may pay into Medicare but not Social Security. You can see this if the worker’s statement has wages in the Medicare taxed earnings column but not the Social Security column. Using the Social Security statement we can uncover the existence of a previously undisclosed pension.

4. Derivative benefits available to a former spouse.

In a marriage over ten years you can receive derivative benefits on the record of your former spouse. The derivative benefit is equal to one half of the former spouse’s benefit which can be found on their annual statement. This is useful for long term planning and can be important in long term spousal support negotiations.

5. Social Security and Medicare tax details.

We often need to estimate incomes for negotiation purposes. A common mistake occurs when the 6.2% Social Security tax is applied to the worker’s entire income. Instead the tax should be applied up to the maximum wage base for Social Security taxes. If you apply the tax to $300,000 of income the net, after tax income will be understated by over $10,000 per year.

6. Possible application of Government Pension Offset Provision (GPO) or Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

Those workers mentioned in #3 above may find themselves subject to the GPO or WEP and end up receiving less benefits than they expected if not careful. It is always important to understand how these government provisions affect an individual in divorce. The Social Security Statement even talks about them in the bottom right hand corner of page 2 in it’s current lay-out.

7. Existence of tax deferral vehicles such as deferred compensation plans and retirement accounts.

If the numbers reported under Medicare wages don’t match those reported in the Social Security earnings column there may be tax deferral vehicles like deferred compensation plans that are being used. The worker may also have simply hit the wage base maximum after which Social Security taxes are no longer incurred but Medicare taxes are.

8. Misreported income.

In California an individual involved in divorce proceedings must file a declaration of disclosure detailing their income and expenses and sign it for accuracy under penalty of perjury. This doesn’t keep people from reporting incorrect figures. If the Social Security Statement doesn’t match what is reported on the declaration there better be an explanation.

The Social Security Administration is provides an online version of taxpayers’ statements. The online version is now available at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement.

Your Wellspring Divorce advisor can uncover a lot from simple and easily available documentation. Imagine what we can find with a complete and accurate set of financial documents.

First meeting with divorce attorney: How can I prepare?

divorce attorney

You can save a lot of money on attorney fees if you are organized and provide your divorce attorney with concise and complete information.  Here are some tips on how to prepare for your first meeting with divorce attorney.

Be prepared to discuss your marital problems with your divorce attorney but keep it concise and honest.

  • The longer you talk about the the lies, affairs and financial disagreements that ended your marriage, the longer your meeting will take and the more it will distract from the legal aspects and business transaction of your divorce proceedings. Talk to your mental health professional if you need a more emotional connection. Talk to your financial expert if you need assistance understanding the family finances and planning for your future. Do your best to simply state. Why, in your honest opinion, your marriage has come to an end.
    • Romantic infidelity?
    • Financial infidelity?
    • Financial Disagreements?
    • Life review?
    • No longer in Love?

An idea of what you want to get out of the divorce proceedings financially.

  • If you do not know what you want; Wellspring Divorce Advisors can build a plan for your financial future and communicate the results with powerful analysis and reports.
  • Some examples
    • Keep the House – Can you afford it?
    • Financial Security – What does this mean to you?
    • Long term spousal support
    • Not to go back to work
    • Children’s college education paid for
    • Financial autonomy
    • Purchase a new home

You should bring the following information to your first meeting:

  • Family information, including the names and birth dates for yourself, your spouse, and your children
  • The date and place where you were married
  • Current employment information for you and your spouse
  • An estimate of financial status including
    • Income (current pay-stubs and last three years tax returns would be best)
    • Expenses (if you have a budget bring it, if not let us know and we cna help you prepare one)
    • Assets and Debts (account statements for mortgage, 401K, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, credit cards)

 

We suggest meeting with a Wellspring Divorce Advisor before or immediately after your first meeting with divorce attorney. We will help you put together a complete and detailed picture of your family finances before the attorney heads down the path of expensive formal discovery. We can also help you choose the right attorney and divorce process if you do not yet have one.

6 Financial Steps to Preparing for Divorce in 2017

financial steps

Are you planning to divorce in 2017?

Take a look at our recommendations for 6 Financial Steps to Preparing for Divorce in 2017.

1. Keep an eye on the mail-box.

Every financial document that hits your mailbox in the month of January is worth your time. You should gather Bank and Brokerage account statements showing year end balances and the year end spending summary sent out by most Credit Card companies. You may also start to see tax documents being sent.

If you aren’t sure whether the document is pertinent to your Divorce in 2017, keep a copy anyway just in case. Financial knowledge will equal power for your Divorce in 2017. The more you can get now the more prepared you will be to advocate for yourself and obtain the most financially advantageous settlement possible in the new year.

2. Make copies of all financial files in your home.

This includes 5 years of tax returns, Brokerage and Bank account statements, business ownership documents such as partnership agreements and wills and trusts. Again, if you have any reason to believe the financial document will be important to your Divorce in 2017; you should keep a copy. It is always better to be over-prepared.

3. Educate yourself about your divorce options.

We believe most couples can resolve their differences outside of court. Make an appointment with a Wellspring Divorce Advisors advisor who will educate you about the process options available for your Divorce in 2017. Staying away from the court system will save emotional and economic resources and should result in a more advantageous financial settlement.

4. Consult with a lawyer or two or three or four.

Your Wellspring Divorce Advisors professional can refer you to many high quality divorce lawyers in your community. Concentrate your search on attorneys who specialize in Family Law. You wouldn’t go to your primary care physician for a tonsillectomy so don’t go to your real estate attorney for your divorce.

5. Develop a budget for your Divorce in 2017.

Divorce is hard on the checkbook. You will have expenses of two households, expenses to set up that second household such as furniture and furnishings. If you already have a family budget you can use this as a guide to start your individual divorce budget. If you don’t have one, begin by looking at the bank and credit card statements you gathered in steps 1 and 2.

First get a feel for the recurring expenses like mortgage and utilities then make estimates of discretionary expenses like dining out and entertainment after averaging a couple of months’ worth of real data gathered from the statements.Finding a way to maintain some level of a similar lifestyle during the divorce proceedings is not easy for most but this is a time for you to be comfortable, not feeling destitute.

Wellspring Divorce Advisors is experienced in creating budgets and available to assist clients in developing a budget for their Divorce.

6. Open a credit card in your individual name.

If you do not yet have a credit card in your name alone we suggest you apply for one immediately. It is common for one party to lose access to cash after filing for divorce. If you do not have cash you cannot pay the professional help you need to protect yourself in the divorce process.

Try Capital One for a good starting point. They usually provide good rewards such as airline or cash back on their cards as well as good size credit limits. Aim for $20,000 of total credit card limits. Be careful not to spend too freely on the cards and try to stick to just using them for professional fees if possible.

Worried? Here are 20 Questions to Uncover Financial Infidelity

questions

What questions should you ask if you are worried about financial infidelity?

If you’re worried your spouse is being financially unfaithful,  here are 20 questions we ask a client who suspects their spouse of financial infidelity. They are all meant to uncover underlying causes or avenues for financial infidelity. You should ask yourself these questions before accusing your spouse of wrongdoing.

  1. Do you have separate bank accounts?
  2. Is your name on the family bank accounts?
  3. Is your name on the mortgage?
  4. Do you have a relationship with the family financial advisor?
  5. Do you know how much your spouse earns and how they get paid?
  6. Who gets the mail and pays the bills?
  7. Are there credit cards you know nothing about?
  8. Are your family bank and investment account balances lower than you would expect?
  9. Are there unopened boxes or clothing hanging in the closet with tags still on it?
  10. Is money an emotional conversation in your marriage?
  11. Does your spouse gamble?
  12. Does your spouse day trade a stock portfolio?
  13. Are there abnormally large expenditures charged to debit cards at department or grocery stores?
  14. Do you suspect your spouse of having an emotional or physical affair?
  15. Are you on an allowance?
  16. Does your spouse do business with family members?
  17. Do you suspect your spouse of misusing prescription or other drugs?
  18. Have you ever wondered where your spouse got the money to buy a big ticket item?
  19. Does your spouse own their own business?
  20. Is it possible your spouse has been planning for divorce for a long time?

 

Call Wellspring Divorce Advisors for professional financial help if these questions heighten your sense of concern. Click here for an overview of financial infidelity in a previous post.

QDRO Process Explained: Click here to find out how to get started.

QDRO

What do I need to know about a QRDO?

The QDRO process can take months to complete making it very important the process is started as soon as possible. Following is a timeline of the process you should expect when filing a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.

Let’s get started.

  1. An attorney experienced in drafting Domestic Relations Orders is identified and engaged by the parties.
  2. The QDRO Specialist drafts the Domestic Relations Order in accordance with specific plan provisions and the agreements reached by parties to the proceedings.
  3. The parties, together with their respective attorneys and financial experts review and approve the draft document.
  4. The Draft Qualified Domestic Relations Order is submitted to the Plan Administrator for pre-approval.
  5. The Plan Administrator responds to the drafter with any necessary revisions.
  6. Requested revisions are made to the QDRO and the revised copy is sent to parties and attorneys for review and signature.
  7. The approved QDRO is signed by both parties and sent to the court for the judge’s signature.
  8. A copy of the singed and court certified Qualified Domestic Relations Order is sent to attorneys or parties.
  9. The certified singed copy of the QDRO must be sent to the Plan Administrator for processing. Some QDRO experts will send the approved document to the plan administrator for the clients. Make sure you know who will take on the responsibility and do not make assumptions.
  10. The Plan Administrator will send a letter to the participant and alternate payee with instructions on how to access the plan and a timeline for completion of the division. It may be necessary for the Alternate Payee to stipulate an outside account for benefits to be rolled to.
  11. The Plan Administrator calculates the division of the plan pursuant to the QDRO and creates a separate account for the Alternate Payee.
  12. The Alternate Payee will receive confirmation that their benefits have been partitioned into a separate account or rolled over into the account previously stipulated.

 

For more information about the Qualified Domestic Relations Order and how it can affect you, visit our article Retirement Accounts & Divorce: Why you need a QDRO.

 

At Wellspring Divorce Advisors, we use state of the art divorce financial planning and forecasting tools for long term projections, retirement plan valuation, support scenario comparisons, and negotiation tools including child support and alimony guidelines. Click here to find out how we can help you.