Michael Edward Fox founded Financial Planning Work$, Incorporated to solve the problem of compensation conflicts. A one time fee for services rendered for the time spent solving others' financial problems made more sense than tying the advice to the purchase of a product.
Lawyers, accountants, dentists, and doctors render (planning) advice without tying the advice to a product purchase as a method of compensation. Why should financial planning be any different? The implementation of any professional’s planning advice requires purchases of something, engineering services, incorporation services, a registered agent, bookkeeping, prescriptions, plaque rinse and dental floss to name a few. In all cases, the implementation decision is subsequent to the objective advice.
Curriculum Vitae ----------- Michael Edward Fox
Mr. Fox is a member of PACE. That stands for Professional Achievement in Continuing Education. PACE requires its members to obtain 30 credit hours of continuing education every two years.
The major course providers are:
Mr. Fox is a member of:
Divorced 28 years, 3 children, 4 grandchildren. Hobbies include HIIT or Tabata gym workouts, Tai Chi, cooking, sailing, snow skiing.
BUCKET LIST I have plans to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020 starting with a five day training experience in June. F.Y.I. It takes six months to cover the entire 2,000 + miles trail starting at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ending in Katahdin Maine, which is in Baxter State Park. You can follow me on my satellite phone.
This story appeared in a National publication. We found out about it after the fact. We had no knowledge of its creation until after publication.
This case illustrates, among other things, that at its core, financial planning is not about hot internet stocks, low term insurance rates, or asset allocation. The case illustrates both real challenges and our capabilities. Elaine Floyd, a national writer appearing in financial journals wrote the article. We reproduce it copy it here. We changed both the client’s name and location for reasons of confidentiality.
Horsesmouth: Protecting the Vulnerable: How a Savvy Advisor Won Social Security Benefits for a Widow and Her Kids 7/18/11 9:09 AM
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Protecting the Vulnerable: How a Savvy Advisor Won Social Security Benefits for a Widow and Her Kids
By Elaine Floyd, CFP
Jul. 18, 2011
What would they have done without him? This is the true story of how a fast-thinking, knowledgeable advisor went to extraordinary lengths to obtain Social Security benefits for a widow and her three children. We all talk about world-class client service, but this advisor truly provided it.
At 5 p.m. on Dec. 21, 2010, an urgent call came into Horsesmouth Member Support from Savvy Social Security subscriber Michael Fox. He said his client was in the ICU, on a ventilator, and he needed to know how long his clients needed to be married in order for the children to receive Social Security survivor benefits. This would help determine when life support would be discontinued, if it came to that.
When I called Fox back, I learned the full story. In January 2010, Fox had advised his clients— Richard, age 55, and Barbara, age 39—to get married. They had been living together for many years, and Richard was like a father to Barbara's three children from a previous marriage. The children range in age from 8 to 13.
When asked why he advised his clients to marry, the first reason Fox gave is that he's old fashioned and doesn't believe in shacking up. But of course the real reason was so Richard could get life insurance in the form of Social Security survivor benefits. A prior disability, coupled with a cancer diagnosis in October of 2009, disqualified Richard from ordinary life insurance through a private insurer.
So Richard and Barbara finally did get married—on April 6, 2010. Now it's Dec. 21, and Richard is close to death. Fox called the Social Security Administration (SSA) to find out if the children would be able to get survivor benefits. He knew that survivor benefits are available to stepchildren, but he was pretty sure there's a length-of-marriage requirement that determines the length of the step-relationship.
One person at SSA said 12 months; another said nine months. After talking to Fox, I looked it up in the Social Security handbook and discovered that for survivor benefits, the step-relationship must have existed for at least nine months, except in case of accident. (For living benefits it's 12 months.) So if Richard can stay alive until Jan. 6, the nine month anniversary of Richard and Barbara's marriage, Barbara's three children would be able to receive survivor benefits off Richard's earnings record until they turn 18. Barbara would receive benefits for having a child in care until the youngest child turns 16. And if she does not remarry before age 60, she would be eligible for survivor benefits starting at age 60. The children and the mother would each receive 75% of Richard's primary insurance amount (PIA), but the total would likely be reduced to the maximum family benefit.
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Over the holidays, Richard's condition worsened. He was unconscious and being kept alive on a ventilator. On Dec. 31, Fox talked to the doctors about continuing life support at least until Jan. 6 so the family can receive these much-needed benefits. Although the doctors were sympathetic, extended life support in this case turned out to be technologically impossible. Richard passed away on Jan. 2, 2011, four days shy of the nine months needed for his stepchildren to qualify for Social Security survivor benefits.
Not one to give up, Fox continued to contemplate ways this young family could get Social Security survivor benefits. As it turns out, Richard's death certificate listed the cause of death as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and lung cancer. In talking with medical personnel, Fox discovered that the ARDS was the result of Richard's lung being injured when a stent was inserted to help him breathe. So although he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, the actual cause of death was the accidental injury to the lung. Now he had his solution: the nine-month marriage requirement is deemed to be satisfied if the death was caused by accident.
In February, Fox accompanied Barbara to her local SSA office to apply for survivor benefits. The SSA worker examined the death certificate and said that she wasn't sure it would be deemed an accident because lung cancer was listed as a cause of death. But, she said, Barbara could go ahead and apply for benefits and if the application was rejected, she could always appeal.
Fox made a split-second decision and said no, that they would come back later, and he scurried Barbara out of the office. His rationale was that appeals seldom allow for new information—all you're doing is shifting the decision to an appeals board. As long as lung cancer showed up on the death certificate, there was too strong a chance that the appeals board would uphold the initial decision to reject the claim.
So Fox took the unusual step of asking the hospital personnel to amend the death certificate and remove lung cancer as a cause of death. The hospital honored the request and issued a new death certificate listing ARDS as the sole cause of death.
A question of support
But they weren't out of the woods yet. Because Richard was a stepfather to the children, and because Barbara worked and also received child support from the children's father, it would have to be proved that Richard provided more than half the children's support. Normally this would have been impossible to do, because Richard had stopped working due to his health problems.
However, he had bought a disability policy years ago, which was now paying. The disability benefits were enough to tip his contribution over the halfway mark, which meant Barbara's children could receive survivor benefits off Richard's record.
Fox and Barbara went back to the SSA office with the amended death certificate and financial records in hand, and submitted Barbara's claim for Social Security survivor benefits for herself and three children. The application was clean, and the supporting materials were clear. Richard died as a result of an accident, which meant the nine-month requirement was satisfied, and bank records showed enough income to prove that he provided more than half the children's support.
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In June, Barbara received a lump-sum check in the amount of $10,000, representing retroactive survivor benefits to Jan. 18, 2011. Going forward, the children will receive the maximum family benefit of $2,300 per month. These survivor benefits will continue for each child until age 18.
Barbara's earnings are too high for her to receive her own child-in-care benefit. However, if she does not remarry, she may file for a survivor benefit as early as age 60 for reduced benefits, or 67 for full survivor benefits.
Fox went to extraordinary lengths to obtain Social Security survivor benefits for Barbara's children —perusing the regulations, sitting in on multiple meetings with SSA personnel, and convincing doctors and hospital administrators to change the death certificate. If there's such a thing as advisor karma, Fox has earned a ton of it. He says he was just doing his job. Here's how he summed up the story:
At the end of the day, it is not about amending death certificates or the fact that the marriage must last nine months for death benefits, or 12 months for living benefits. It is about the math of support, dead or alive. In this case, Barbara earned about $60,000. Child support was $1,300 a month. Richard had $9,000 a month in income replacement insurances. Do the math, and you will see, absent the income replacement insurance, there would be no benefit for the children. Barbara would have to wait until age 60, some 20 years from now, for a widow's benefit. No life insurance existed. Richard had been uninsurable for life insurance since 2002 for reasons unrelated to the cause of death. The uninsurable condition is what prompted the recommendation that they marry in the first place. Social Security benefits would be the back-door surrogate for life insurance not otherwise available.
Disability insurance—not to mention Fox's persistence—is what saved the day for these clients. It provided essential income during Richard's life and assured the Social Security survivor benefits after his death. Fox is not the one who sold these clients the policy, but he did recommend that they retain it, even though he stood to gain nothing from it. His reward came three weeks ago, when he found out that despite their personal tragedy, this young family will be financially OK and that he did everything humanly possible to make that happen.
Financial planning lessons
This story dramatizes several important lessons for financial advisors.
Think outside the box. When Richard proved to be uninsurable for life insurance, Fox remembered that Social Security provides survivor benefits to widows and children. But to qualify, Richard and Barbara had to be married.
Get personal. What right does a financial advisor have to advise a couple to marry? In this case, Fox's two cents could return up to one million dollars in Social Security survivor benefits
to Barbara and her three children. They will receive up to $2,300 each month until the youngest child turns 18, and then when Barbara turns 60, she could receive some 30 years of survivor benefits, depending on how long she lives.
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Look for Plan B… and then C. When Richard tragically died four days short of the nine months required for Social Security survivor benefits, Fox immediately looked into commonlaw marriage laws in his clients' state of New Jersey. After all, Richard and Barbara had lived together for many years as husband and wife. Social Security does recognize common-law marriage if the beneficiary's state of residence recognizes it. New Jersey does not. That's when Fox went back to the regulations and hit upon the realization that the nine-month requirement is met in the case of accidental death.
Think fast. Fox's on-the-spot decision to walk out of the SSA office the first time saved everyone a lot of wasted time and a potentially unfavorable decision for Barbara on appeal.
The death certificate wasn't clear that the cause of death was accidental, and Fox wanted clarity from the outset when dealing with a bureaucracy such as the Social Security Administration.
Be pushy. How common is it to get a death certificate changed? I don't know, but Fox knew it was his only chance to prove that Richard's death was accidental. When I asked him,
"Didn't the hospital realize they were opening themselves up to a lawsuit?" he replied that they never connected the dots. Fox had done such a good job of getting the hospital on Barbara's side in her quest for Social Security survivor benefits that they were willing to do whatever they could to help.
Consider risks your client may not contemplate. Richard came close to cancelling his disability policy because years ago he was caught working when he was supposed to be disabled (this was before the lung cancer diagnosis). If they're not going to pay, he reasoned, why keep the policy? But Fox said that Richard could always encounter a different disability, and so he should keep the policy in force and continue paying premiums. This turned out to be prophetic. When Richard was diagnosed with lung cancer, the disability policy paid off, and this is what allowed him to contribute more than half of the children's support. Without it,there would be no Social Security survivor benefits for the children.
Be sensitive and rational. Throughout the whole ordeal, Fox was extraordinarily sensitive to the pain and sadness that Barbara and the children were experiencing over Richard's untimely death. The fact that the lung cancer was under control and that the cause of death was a preventable accident made the situation all the more tragic. Fox gave his clients time to grieve, but he stepped in with a rational plan and concrete steps for ensuring financial stability for this young family.
The importance of Social Security benefits for children…
Fox's efforts also confirm just how important Social Security can be for children. Consider this excerpt from The Benefits of Social Security for Children: "The critical role Social Security plays in providing indispensable protection for children is often overlooked by the press and policy makers who almost exclusively refer to Social Security as a retirement program for seniors. While Social Security indeed plays a critical role in the economic security of retired workers, it also provides near universal support for children—covering 98% of all children in the event of the death or disability of a caregiver."
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And consider this excerpt, from Social Security Provides Economic Security for Women "Without Social Security benefits, over half of women 65 and over would be living in poverty. With Social Security, the poverty rate for older women falls to 12%. Among widows, the impact of Social Security is particularly striking—58% of widows would be living in poverty if not for Social Security."
As director of retirement and life planning for Horsesmouth, Elaine Floyd helps advisors better serve their clients by understanding the practical and technical aspects of retirement income planning. A former wirehouse broker, she earned her CFP designation in 1986.
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Last revised 9-1-2020