in FS, Retirement

Helping Mom apply for Social Security — More complicated than it needs to be?

My mother turned seventy a couple of weeks ago. This means a couple of things:

  • First, she’s reached the age at which she can receive maximum retirement benefits from Social Security.
  • Second, it’s time for her to start taking Required Minimum Distributions from her retirement accounts.

If you’ve been reading Get Rich Slowly for a while, you know that these two routine tasks are less than routine for my family. My mother has fought a long-time battle with mental illness. After a crisis in 2011, my brothers and I realized that she could not live alone. We found a highly-regarded local assisted living facility that specializes in patients with memory issues. (Mom has some sort of cognitive disability that includes memory loss, but which the doctors have been unable to diagnose.)

For the past seven years, Mom has lived at Happy Acres in a comfortable apartment with her cat (Bonnie) and her television. When I see her, I often ask if there’s anything more she needs or wants. She assures me that this is all she needs to be happy.

Mom and Bonnie

At this point, Mom struggles with routine personal hygiene, so there’s no way she can take care of tasks like signing up for Social Security or taking withdrawals from her retirement accounts. As her sons, that’s now our job. (And we’re happy to do it.)

You might think that this process would be easy — but you’d be wrong. I suspect that in most cases, getting retirement benefits started is easy, but it’s much less so in our situation.

A Little Bit of Kafka

At first, my brother Jeff and I thought that setting up Social Security would be simple. He and I both have Power of Attorney. We’re accustomed to this allowing us to breeze through most financial tasks as if we were Mom herself.

In March, about a month before Mom’s birthday, I spent an afternoon at the local Social Security office. I took all of the documentation that I could gather.

I arrived to find the waiting room was packed with other folks applying for benefits. It was standing-room only. Rather than get frustrated, I sighed and resigned myself to waiting. And wait, I did. I waited for two hours before my number was called. (It was all fine, though. I spent the time absorbed in a good book.)

When my turn came, I sat at the desk and talked to the clerk. “I’m here to apply for Social Security benefits for my mother,” I said.

“Is your mother with you?” the clerk asked.

“No,” I said. “But I have Power of Attorney.” I pulled out the paperwork to offer proof.

The clerk waved her hand and shook her head. “The Social Security Administration does not recognize Powers of Attorney,” she told me. “To conduct business on your mother’s behalf, you must be a designated representative, a legal guardian.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“For all practical purposes, it means you probably should make an appointment to bring your mother in with you. That’s going to be the easiest thing to do.”

“Okay,” I said. “But she’s not really going to be able to carry on a conversation or to make an informed decision about anything. Still, let’s make an appointment.”

“Even if she’s not mentally fit, she has to be the one who applies in person,” the clerk said. She clicked at her keyboard, searching for appointment times. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any appointments available.”

I was puzzled. “Let me get this straight. Mom has to apply in person. To apply in person, we have to make an appointment. But there are no appointments available?”

“Well, there three other options,” the clerk said. “She can do what you did today and wait in the lobby. She can call each morning to see if there are any cancellations. Or she can apply online. However, she has to apply herself. You can’t fill out the application for her.”

I’ll admit that I was both baffled and a little steamed. “She’s not able to fill out the application herself. She’s not capable,” I said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have her wait here with me for two hours as a drop-in. And calling the day-of to get an appointment is problematic. It would take roughly three hours from the time I called in order to get her here.”

The clerk shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she said. “Those are your three options.”

Skirting the Law

When I returned home, I called my brother to explain the situation. “I feel like there’s no way we can get this done,” I said, “unless we fudge things a little.”

“What do you mean?” he said.

“Well, there’s no way for Mom to complete the application hereself, right? Legally, she’s required to. But what if we completed it for her while she’s in the room?”

“I’m okay with that,” Jeff said.

And that’s what we did: Jeff and I sat with Mom and worked through the online Social Security benefits application.

Much of the application asked for standard stuff, such as age, mailing address, and so on. It was easy for us to answer those questions. But some of the questions required sleuthing. To set up Mom’s online Social Security account, for instance, we had to puzzle out a battery of questions drawn from her credit history. (Solution? Just pull a free credit report, which you’re allowed to do three times per year.) To actually complete the benefits application, we needed to figure out important dates regarding her marriage and her work history.

Whenever we reached a question that stumped us, we asked Mom for the answer. She never had the answers, though, so we had to dig through various documents to find the info.

After a couple of hours, we’d finished the application. We asked Mom to type in her name for the digital signature. (Even that was tough for her.) The process was over…or so we thought.

About a week later, we got a letter in the mail from the Social Security Administration. “Thank you for contacting us for an appointment to visit our office,” the letter read. “This is confirmation of the date and time of your appointment.”

“What in the world is this?” Jeff asked me. “We never made an appointment for Mom.”

“I have no idea,” I said. “I thought we’d done everything we need to do at this point. But I’ll tell you what. It sounds like we have a firm date and time for an appointment, so let’s just take it. We may be duplicating our efforts, but that’s okay. I’m willing to sacrifice a few hours of my time just to make sure everything is correct.”

Return to Purgatory

Jeff handled everything with the assisted living facility, arranging for Mom to have an early breakfast, and getting her approved to take a field trip. His wife showed up yesterday morning just to make sure everything went according to plan.

Meanwhile, I left the house at 7:30, stopped by the family box factory to pick up supporting documentation, then headed to Happy Acres to pick up Mom.

When we reached the Social Security office at 8:55, there was already a long line at the door. “There’s no way we’re going to get inside in time for our nine o’clock appointment,” I thought to myself, but it turns out I needn’t have worried. When the office opened, a security guard summoned folks with appointments to the front of the line. Mom and I went inside to meet the clerk who would be conducting the interview.

Our clerk was both friendly and helpful. He was also meticulous and business-like. At first, he directed his questions to Mom (as he should have), but when it became clear that Mom couldn’t answer for herself, he addressed me instead.

“We’ve received your mother’s application for retirement benefits,” the clerk told me. “But she’s also eligible for survivors benefits. That’s what today’s interview is about. We want to get her set up in the system so that she receives everything she’s due.”

The clerk interviewed us for about twenty minutes. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to answer all of his questions because we weren’t prepared for them. When did Dad die? I remember that date very clearly. When were Mom and Dad married? I don’t know off the top of my head and Mom can no longer remember.

“Do you have a copy of their marriage certificate?” the clerk asked. No, we do not. “Ah, you’ll need to get a certified copy and mail it to me in order to complete this process.”

“How do I do that?” I asked.

“You’ll need to contact the Department of Vital Records in whichever state she was married,” he said. “Once you get a certified copy, mail it to me in this envelope. After we have all of the documentation we need, benefits will begin a few weeks later.”

To Be Continued…

Last month during my road trip through the southeastern United States, I stopped to visit my pal Cameron Huddleston in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Huddleston, a personal-finance columnist, has experienced something similar herself. Her mother has Alzheimer’s, so Huddleston has had to learn to manage her money. And, in fact, she just signed a deal to write a book about managing your parents’ money.

“It’s kind of a boring topic, but it’s important,” Huddleston told me. “It’s something that more and more people are wrestling with, especially as lifespans increase and personal finances become more complicated.” She hopes to produce a useful guide to help people like me figure this stuff out. From what we can tell, nothing like this exists right now. It’s like each person in my situation has to re-invent the wheel, to puzzle through the process on our own each time. I’m eager to be the first person to buy Huddleston’s book!

Obviously, my family still has work to do.

From what we can tell, Mom’s application for Social Security retirement benefits has been accepted and now it’s simply a matter of waiting for payments to begin. (This can take up to three months, apparently.)

Meanwhile, in order for her to receive survivors benefits, we need to track down a copy of her marriage certificate, which I suspect is going to eat another couple hours of my time. That’s a task for this afternoon, I guess.

Plus, I haven’t even started talking to Vanguard about how to take Required Minimum Distributions from Mom’s IRA. We have another 5-1/2 months to solve this piece of the puzzle. (RMDs must begin by the time the account holder is 70-1/2 years old.) I’m going to wait until the Social Security benefits are finally flowing before I move on to the IRA.

One final task? The next time I see that Mom is having a lucid day, I want to ask her what we can buy her to improve her life. She says she’s content sitting in front of the television with a cat in her lap, but I feel like there must be something more we can do for her. Maybe get her a second and third cat? Maybe get her a super-deluxe television? Or how about buying a fancy chair with built-in massage?

Mom has some money now. It’d be awesome to use that money to give her a better life.

Important footnote: Dad died in July 1995. Mom has missed out on 23 years of Social Security survivors benefits because we weren’t aware that she should apply for them. That’s crazy! “Do you have any literature on survivors benefits?” I asked the clerk at the Social Security office yesterday. He have me a few pamphlets. Soon, I’ll read all of this material and write a short blog post summarizing the most important pieces.

Write a Comment



  1. Wow, that’s some story. At least it seems like the SSA was trying to be helpful. I’ve been at motor vehicles for hours when they started throwing people out of the building and saying to come back next time.

    Is there any way to apply for retroactive survivor’s benefits?

    It’s funny. When we are young and able most of our choices seem so basic and straightforward. When we get old and can no longer make choices for ourselves, they seem to get more complicated.

    • I’m not trying to complain about the Social Security folks. They’re doing their jobs, and they’re doing them correctly. Just trying to document what it’s like from my end…

  2. Your mother is very fortunate to have her sons looking out for her. It sounds like your mother is happy and content. Please don’t get a second or third cat. More cats won’t guaranteed more satisfaction. Multiple cats in a small space can cause conflict and disrupt her and Bonnie’s current tranquility.

      • We got my Dad a chair that would lift him up to make it easier to get in and out of a chair. Showed him several times how to use it, but he could never remember how to use the control, which was just an up and down button. If your Mom needs to learn a new skill to make the massage chair work, it might not be a good idea. Just something to consider.

  3. Setting up RMDs with Vanguard is easy, I believe. My in laws just called and they set up a separate account for them. Periodically Vanguard automatically transfers the amount to that taxable account.

    • Yes, you can’t find an alternative to SSA, but Vanguard has customers they have to keep happy. I don’t even have power of attorney for my dad, but his financial advisor (not at Vanguard, but I expect it to be similar) will talk to me with his permission and help me help him set his RMD. And I have the added complication of living a couple thousand miles away. But it has never been a problem.

      RMDs are really straightforward. I expect it will literally take minutes. It might take a couple more if you try to take out more than the RMDs to pay income tax at her low tax rate, but it still won’t be anything major. And I’d do it sooner than later just for the psychic value of having that off the list. That way also, if there is a catch you aren’t scrambling to take care of it before the deadline.

      • Surely the RMD will be MUCH easier than setting up SS!

        I’m sorry to hear that she missed out on survivor benefits all these years. My mom hits her full retirement age next year and is still planning/needing to work for several more years. She plans to take survivor benefits earned from my dad’s SS earnings record first, so that she can let her own SS grow until age 70. She isn’t taking that benefit until next year though, because the benefit is significantly reduced if you are still working and haven’t hit full retirement age.

        • Agreed. RMD’s at Vanguard should be very straightforward. I would not put that off, however, because the IRS will take 50% (AGH!) as a penalty if you don’t take the REQUIRED minimum distribution (they want those deferred tax revenue).

          And let me just say that your mom has two wonderful and devoted sons. She is lucky in that way.

          Best of luck to you as you get this all figured out….painful to read.

  4. We are going through this with our elderly Aunt for whom we are responsible. Luckily she did the SS before we really got involved in her finances.

    With regards to make your Mom more comfortable. Purchase a good recliner with electric/button recline and/or the feature to help her get up out of it. She may not use it now but Aunt Doris uses hers often.

    Believe it or not Aunt Doris also likes Siri and Alexa. She can just tell them to call us and not have to worry about dialing.

    Also, we do the electric photo frames where we place text on the photos with names, anniversaries and birthdays. It helps her recall.

    Just a few ideas…

      • Yes, we bought all of those things for my grandma (except Alexa…great idea!) and they definitely improved her life. She also grew up poor, but my grandparents were so frugal they ended up very-late-in-life millionaires as well and we are trying to get her to spend some of the money to improve her life before she passes away.

      • One additional thought on the electric chair – check into Medicare coverage on it as I got my grandmother’s covered under medicare up to a certain amount (can’t remember the specific amount reimbursed). If you purchase it through, for example, a medical supply company, they will have the forms to send into medicare. I think Medicare covers necessary medical equipment (one item like a lift chair) once every 5 years. Need to check as it has been a few years since I did it for my grandmother.

  5. This made me wonder if my Mom is getting survivor benefits from my Dad’s death. I’ll double check, but I suspect that since they were both getting SS when he died AND the fact that she wouldn’t be getting much on her own, that it’s taken care of. But you never know.

    I read on another blog (unrelated to personal finance) where the author was dealing with aging parents. There a survivor’s benefits from the VA also (in certain cases). I believe my Mom (though not at all “rich”) does not qualify.

    Thanks for this!

  6. That’s helpful information and a reminder for everyone to have uncomfortable conversations with their parents or children regarding where to find these vital records if you should become incapacitated for any reason.

    Getting your parents marriage certificate is pretty easy if you know where they were married (i had to get a copy of mine recent and it took about 10 minutes on the computer followed by 2-3 days waiting for the mail). Unfortunately, for some states (like mine), the marriage/divorce records are contained in county and not state records, which complicates things. For example, I know where my parents have lived their entire lives (probably a handful of counties over a couple states), but I have no idea where they were actually married. I could probably pinpoint it to one of about 4 counties, but I can see how this could definitely be an issue for some.

  7. I don’t know if you are aware but there won’t be two checks or a double benefit once you and SS determine her eligibility for survivor’s benefits. It just means she will most likely get the amount that your father would have been receiving assuming her own benefit is a spousal ie based on his SS benefit amount, or that her benefit is lower which is usually the case for elderly widows.

    As for missing out on benefits since 1995, that’s only if your mom was eligible for SS benefits when he died, which she wouldn’t have been at 57. She could have started benefits at 60 YO but they would be reduced. So she would have had to wait till she was full retirement age to get her survivor’s benefits meaning 65 YO herself. Meaning it’s not as bad as it could be but still a shame nobody realized she could have been collecting for quite awhile.

  8. You’re talking about stuff to buy for your mother. Any experiences that you could buy your mother – that she would truly enjoy?

    Of course, there are some experiences that would just be stressful to her in her condition. But perhaps she would like:

    1. A massage, a new haircut, a pedicure, a manicure, a bath, etc
    2. Someone who takes her out of the home to do things like making a walk in the park, drive around the countryside, or go shopping, or going to drink a cup of tea somewhere
    3. Creative or musical entertainment – adaptable to her current level of course

  9. I support the idea of a regular scheduled pedicure. When you are old it is hard to bend down and difficult to see your feet….let alone trim your tough old toe nails. We are not talking beauty salon toes here…..this is to stop ingrown toe nails and other foot problems.

    Some elderly may appreciate a newspaper or magazine subscription.

  10. For the record, mom’s recliner is brand new (we purchased for her 70th birthday), and she says it is quite comfortable. It doesn’t have any electric adjustments or massaging features, but it is comfortable and supportive. Many of the cool features most of us would appreciate don’t work so well with her cognitive disability.

  11. I am no expert, but I think you have until the end of the calendar year to take her RMD, no matter when in the year she turns 70.5.

  12. If you have any family members who are hobby genealogists with an membership, they may be very quickly able to find the marriage certificate.

    For my mom’s survivor benefits, she need to find my step-dad’s divorce decree from his first wife. I had a friend who located it within minutes, since she had access to census records and an account.

  13. I had a similar experience with my dad who suffered from Parkinson’s and could not walk. He was mentally sharp but could not speak well enough to be understood by someone not accustomed to his speech so I thought with the POA I could handle a Social Security matter. I was also informed that the Kremlin, I mean the Social Security office, did not recognize the common form of guardianship that every other single structure in the free world readily accepts and that regardless of the difficulty and suffering it might cause him that the best bet was to drag him down there so he could nod at her and she could fix the issue. It wasn’t her fault, but the system is just, well, I don’t want to get your blog an “adults only” rating so I’ll stop. Just, I feel your pain and I admire your devotion to your mom, you are good people J.D.! Oh and the best part was when my dad died on like the last day of a month Social Security sent me a letter saying his estate owed the entire month back to the government. And this was a guy who was seriously injured fighting for his country in WWII. No words…

  14. For those interested in the various benefits SS offers and/or with (potentially) varied claiming options (start year, personal, spousal) I really highly recommend the book Get What’s Yours, which I checked out of my library and read cover-to-cover. Phenomenally informative.

  15. Not SS- but those of you who have elderly parents who served in the military you need to make sure they are getting their benefits. The process is a bit tedious, but is worth it at the end. Check with the local VFW or DVA. People like Steve’s father should have been getting a monthly check, medical care and help with burial when he passed. This cannot be done retroactively.

  16. I think your mom will get a back payment check once her social security gets rolling for your fathers social security. It might take a year or two. One day out of the blue my mom got a check for $10,000. She had no idea it was coming to her until it was in the mailbox for back payments. Also, always check your mother’s mail carefully.

  17. Good job helping your mom. It sounds tedious, but at least you’re mostly done. Missing out on survivor benefit is harsh. I know about it, but most people probably don’t. I wonder how many people miss out on these.

    My mom doesn’t have to deal with Social Security. She doesn’t have enough credit to qualify for benefit. That’s a different problem altogether…

    • Were your parents married for more then ten years? Has your father contributed to SS for the min amount of time? If the answer is yes to these two questions, she does qualify for SS. Your father never has to apply for her to get her benefits. No matter what, if she is a citizen of the US, she may be able to get SSI. Worth looking into.

  18. I would like to throw out a suggestion on what more you could do for your mom. There is a growing body of evidence that physical exercise is helpful in improving the quality of life in people with cognitive problems. Why not consider a personal trainer for your mom, someone who specializes in setting up exercise programs for the elderly. If your mom is agreeable, it could benefit her in two ways, physically and also another point of social contact.

  19. We have started a similar process with our daughter who is very LD. She will be 18 soon and I had no idea everything we would need to do to assist her with decision making. Fortunately she has a caseworker through the department of rehab that is assisting us and some resources through the school system. But the paperwork, Oh my!

      • I had no idea we have to get “guardianship” of her. We are hoping to be able to do so without expensive legal bills.

  20. Happy birthday to your mom! My pop turned 70 last month. Fortunately he’s entirely lucid and at least as competent as I am. Dad’s grandmother lasted well into her 90s and still routinely whipped her kids and grandkids at cribbage, so we don’t worry too much about his cognitive state.

    To echo (hah.) some folks above, Alexa has been wicked useful for dad. It reads him books as he goes to sleep at night, and handles his news and music needs nicely. We lost mom a year and a half ago but my brother and I are both local, and he’s got myriad church/amateur radio/ex-colleague friends who keep him from getting overly lonely.

    Dad was a federal CSRS employee, so he’s fortunately never had to deal with Social Security or applying for it. His pension + RMD works out to more than my wife and I make combined. Here’s hoping he’s around to take it for decades to come.

    • I had never considered an Alexa for my Mom (about to be 90, lives in independent living apt), but your post has made me curious.

      I think I could let her use my Amazon Prime account to listen to music (I think it only let’s one device listen at a time though). We had an sirius/xm unit she used to listen to “her music” and it died (and we’re out of state), but I bet Alexa would be even even easier.

      I really like this idea. I wonder if there’s an Amazon Prime for seniors that isn’t so expensive (she’d wouldn’t use anything else, as she’s a Nook user).

      • I did look and see that Amazon offers reduced price for people on Medicaid or EBT benefits. That does not apply to my Mom.

        Adam, does your father have his own Prime account? The reality is that it would be similar cost to Sirius/XM unit and subscription, even if I paid for her.

        My son and I have used the Amazon Music app at the same time and it basically asks you if you want to switch to ‘this’ device (effectively cutting the first person off). So it might make more sense to let her have her own account.

        • My apologies for just now seeing your reply! Yes, dad’s on his own Prime account. It’s well worth it for how much content he consumes. He’s even made adjustments to various switches and lights to smarten up the areas of the house where he spends most of his time so they’re voice-controlled. He’s all-in with the Amazon platform: books, movies, audio, everything.

  21. What does your mom watch on TV? Maybe some Netflix or if that’s to hard new DVD’s to watch movies and shows. I’ve not dealt with this situation yet im to young and my mom is as well but I find this subject fascinating! 23 YEARS?!? that’s a long time. Seems like she will be well taken cared of until the end of life.

  22. Things to do for your mom- are there any special foods she would enjoy that she doesn’t get where she lives? Could you set up a delivery service for her favorite foods to come right to her once in a while?

    I know my FIL misses some of his favorite foods and I treat him whenever I can. DQ blizzards are his favorite treat so I bring one to him or if he is up to it, I take him to DQ and treat him.

    Perhaps some fancy, healthy, expensive cat treats for her best friend???

    Just some suggestions for you. Thanks for taking such good care of her. It is vitally important that we all do everything we can to keep our elders as comfortable as possible- our day is coming.

  23. Incredibly sad that family members are doing the right thing and are able to spend so much time in the process of doing the right thing, only to have such a difficulty time with Social Security office. Some many people do not have family members or friends that will even try. It sounds like you and your brother are doing Olympic Marathon trials with Social Security office. Your mother is very lucky to have family members that care.

  24. wow, what a story. Your mom is lucky to have a son like you. Government make things more complicated than it needs to be. Thank you for sharing your story

  25. J.D., Sadly, your story is so very common. I do webinars on Social Security planning and have written (and will continue) articles on the topic.

    I’ve heard so many nightmare stories like yours. It all depends on the person you happen to get. In a 2015 study, the GAO found numerous errors in the advice given by SSA employees. Here’s a snippet: “…in 8 of 26 claims interviews in which the claimant could have received higher monthly benefits by waiting until a later age, the claims specialist did not discuss the advantages and disadvantages of delaying claiming. Further, only 7 of the 18 claimants for whom the retirement earnings test could potentially apply were given complete information about how the test worked.”

    Survivor benefits are one of the most misunderstood. Claiming early not only reduces the retiree’s benefit, but also the survivor. In my recent post, The Top 4 Reasons to Delay Claiming Social Security (, I briefly cover how early claiming does that.

    There is just so much bad information about claiming. Many people leave 10s of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table because of not understanding the rules.

    It’s why I’m passionate about educating people so they can make sound choices.

    Thank you for sharing your very personal story. Hopefully, it moves people to do some research before claiming.

  26. *sigh*

    And the process continues. This morning, I went online to request a copy of Mom’s marriage certificate, which is needed in order to complete the application for SSA survivor benefits. Quick enough to supply the info, but now I need to go have a document notarized in order to request the certificate.

  27. My parents weren’t wealthy, but they were financially savvy. Since we are a blended family, my parents set up a trust to distribute their assets equally between families. What they hadn’t planned on was Mom having dementia. Even though they had a trust, we had to get POAs from both of them so we could take care of their finances while they were alive. In most instances, we had no trouble taking care of things (pension, IRA, investments. etc.) with the POAs.

    Now that they have both died, things are actually more difficult. We had to get a new taxpayer ID, open a new bank account, the person managing the finances via POA can no longer write checks, and the pension plan, even though they stopped payments, is requiring a 4-page document and an original death certificate to close out Dad’s account.

    It is turning out to be non-stop work to get everything cleared up. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without the trust and all the pre-need planning they did for us. Time for me to get busy and get my stuff in order. Wills, trusts, POAs, insurance, etc.; get it together in one place while you are coherent enough to do so.

    Regarding your mom, my mom loved pedicures (my husband likes them too) and a stop at Denny’s for a milkshake. “Stuff” wasn’t important to her at all.

  28. I worked for SSA from 1974-80. There was a simple form, SSA-11, on which you could apply to be a beneficiary’s representative payee. I think it required a doctor’s certification. But once her benefits begin, you probably won’t need to do this, especially in an age of direct deposits.

    Hard to believe that in this information age, no one informed her or you about survivor’s benefits. Funeral homes notify SSA routinely, and she would have likely qualified for the small one-time death benefit of $255, and probably informed that she was eligible at age 60 as a widow. (I’ve been collecting as a widower since age 63, then will switch to my own at age 70.) I’m inferring that she was only 47 when husband died. If she had young-enough children, then she and they could have qualified immediately for monthly checks.

    When I worked for SSA, the retroactivity was 12 months maximum. Now I believe it’s less than that, if it exists at all. But she could get some back $$ by applying as a widow. And it’s possible that her widow’s benefit might exceed her own, in which case it might be better to restrict her application to survivor’s benefits.

    • Howard, what I suspect happened was this: Dad died at age 49. Mom was 47 (as you correctly inferred). She probably received some notice in the autumn of 1995, but since she had another 13 years before she could receive benefits, I’m guessing she thought nothing of it. Then, when she could receive benefits, they probably sent her another letter. But in those intervening 13 years, Mom’s mental health changed drastically. It’s very, very likely that if she did receive a notice, she ignored it. The more I think about her situation, the more likely I think this is.

  29. My mom also has a combination of cognitive issues and memory issues (along with what started out as some relatively minor physical issues) as a result of a stroke. At first her husband was taking care of her (they were only married for a couple of months before it happened!) but then when he died a few years later I was suddenly tasked with taking care of her (since I’m her only child). It was a whirlwind lasting a solid three months where I was constantly on the phone and attempting to figure out how to navigate all these systems. Finally it stabilized to some degree. Luckily she already had SS disability benefits in place from her husband taking care of it but I still had to become her representative payee and take everything over. She had essentially no assets (and neither did her husband although what little he had went to his kids) so she qualified for state-level Medicaid (which is even more complicated). I attempted to apply for VA spousal benefits but she got denied at the time … might pursue that again later. Some physical issues progressed to the point where I made the tough decision to place her in a nursing home. She is very similar to your mom in that she is content watching TV all day as long as the picture/sound quality is good and her shows are on. She wouldn’t know how to use anything fancy or even remember that it’s there in the first place. She does well with routine. She loves when I visit or call. She loves having her beer every night. It’s just simple things. I got her a DayClox which is a special clock for people with memory loss because she was constantly asking what day it was. There are websites that specialize in items like that so you can browse what’s available. You could also consider a physical therapy program versus a personal trainer if the situation warrants it. Also I’m not sure if she has the means to pay for the assisted living facility herself but in my case the skilled nursing home facility takes most of the money from my mom’s Social security check each month as part of the payment (the rest is covered by Medicaid) and there is a small defined allowance/stipend that she is allowed to keep each month for personal expenses (such as haircuts or clothing to buy). Right now it works out to a little over $100 retained per month out of $1600+.