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The Short Version: Retirees face many unknowns, but their monthly incomes shouldn’t be one of them. Since 1976, the Pension Rights Center has developed useful resources to ensure Americans know what to expect when they’re ready to retire. The PRC’s online fact sheets and counselor directory can help individuals, couples, and families get answers to their most pressing questions about retirement benefits. If you’re wondering how to claim your pension (or a spouse’s pension), you can contact the PRC to receive clear, accurate, and free guidance.
My parents are in their mid-60s and looking toward retirement, so I hear a lot of talk about budgeting and downsizing these days. My dad likes to joke that my mom’s good genes (all the women on her side have lived past 85) are a financial burden. They’re betting on the likelihood that my mom will be around for a good 20 or 30 years after retiring, so they’re busy saving up to make sure she can make the most of her golden years.
When it comes to retirement, it’s important to make a plan as early as possible and prepare financially for spending potentially decades of your life on a fixed income.
The Pension Rights Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and promoting security for all Americans. The website offers free informational resources and referrals to organizations and attorneys that can assist individuals who need help understanding or obtaining an earned retirement benefit. The PRC’s advice and assistance are instrumental for retirees who are dependent on their pensions.
PRC works with six federally funded pension counseling projects around the country to provide free legal assistance to current and future retirees (and their spouses) in 30 states. One of the PRC’s websites, PensionHelp America, can also locate resources for individuals in the 20 states that aren’t covered by a project.
PRC offers fact sheets on retirement to help people learn about public pension plans, individual retirement accounts, 401(k)s, and other retirement plans.
The PRC even has a fact sheet about claiming retirement benefits after a divorce. The webpage explains that divorcees must obtain and file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to qualify for retirement benefits earned by an ex-spouse.
“People need to know that a divorce decree alone is not enough to obtain a share of a former spouse’s retirement benefit,” said Legal Program Director Emily Spreiser. “You must obtain an additional court order and submit it to the retirement plan as soon as possible.”
The PRC website has a lot of relevant, accurate, and detailed information about claiming retirement benefits. If you’re looking ahead to your retirement and have questions, you can find good answers thanks to the PRC’s exhaustive resources.
In the PRC’s Find Help section, you can find contact information for six counseling projects that provide free legal help to people in 30 states, and anyone can contact the PRC directly with further questions. In 2018, the nonprofit fielded almost 2,000 help requests by phone and by email. These experts can provide accurate information and professional referrals for anyone needing help understanding how retirement benefits work.
“When it comes to protecting your retirement benefits, it’s also important to hold on to all your documents having to do with retirement benefits,” said Emily. “That includes past tax returns, which can be used to show whether you already received your benefit.”
The PRC sets lofty goals for the future and endeavors to educate the American public about important yet little-known financial topics. For instance, the PRC has recently launched an initiative to address the difficulties of divorced individuals – especially women and members of disadvantaged communities – encounter when trying to obtain their fair share of a former spouse’s retirement benefit at divorce. According to the PRC’s internal statistics, 1 in 5 of its requests for information had to do with divorce, and the most visited page on its website — at 120,000 unique views — was its fact sheet on pension rights after divorce.
The PRC also operates a referral network of hundreds of attorneys who specialize in the laws impacting retirement benefits and can refer individuals to private attorneys who can help them.
Retirees can run into many different obstacles when it comes to their retirement benefits. Some can’t find old employers to claim earned benefits, while others have to cut through red tape to claim the retirement benefits of a spouse after being divorced or widowed. Still others have had their benefits miscalculated, or have been told by an employer that they are not eligible to receive the retirement benefits they earned.
“The biggest trend we saw in 2018 was a continued, significant increase in the number of people reaching out to the Pension Rights Center,” Emily said. “We estimate this is because a large part of the baby boomer generation has now reached retirement age.”
Planning for retirement can be complicated and stressful, but Americans have resources that can make it easier to manage. Anyone who needs help with their retirement plan can turn to PensionHelp America, a website offered by the PRC, for trustworthy recommendations and referrals.
As thousands of people reach out to the PRC for legal assistance, the Center gets a good sense of how everyday retirees are doing and what issues concern them.
“We’re in a better position than ever to spot areas where active workers and retirees nationwide are struggling with regard to retirement,” said Emily. “Thousands of people are using Pension Rights Center resources to get help, and a significant number of those people are asking about dividing retirement benefits at divorce, so we now know that people across the country are struggling with this issue.”
The PRC can clarify issues regarding divorce and retirement, but it wants to do more to inform and empower people in this area. According to the PRC, the majority of calls regarding obtaining a former spouse’s pension come from women, some of whom are survivors of domestic violence. These women are often in a financially vulnerable position and need a reliable pension to help pay the bills.
Even women who have been legally awarded a former spouse’s retirement benefits can run into obstacles in actually obtaining them. They have to navigate a complex legal system to ensure they get their due, and the PRC can help them understand the various steps of the process.
In 2018, the PRC embarked on a mission to find out why so many women are struggling to receive their fair share of an ex-spouse’s retirement benefit after a divorce. The initiative seeks to identify common pain points and brainstorm solutions to aid women who have a legal right to certain benefits earned by a former partner.
“This is a large, systemic issue that will take time to solve,” Emily said. “We’re still in the information-gathering phase of our initiative, but so far we are very pleased with our momentum and are already receiving lots of positive feedback from people who feel like a discussion about this problem has been a long time coming.”
Over the years, the PRC has advocated on behalf of retirees from all walks of life. The organization has urged lawmakers to uphold their promises to the older population, and it has helped individuals and couples gain access to the benefits they have earned in their careers. The PRC has collected a story bank of testimonials from people with and without pensions.
“I was a mason all of my life and worked every hour in all kinds of weather so I could have a decent life in my later years,” said Dana D., a 74-year-old Ohio resident. “I would like to see our old people and veterans treated the way they should be treated.”
“I did not know how pensions worked,” said Pearl T., a 67-year-old in Connecticut. “This is a lesson for all first wives, especially those with disabled children: see a lawyer before the husband, or ex-husband, dies.”
“As long as I have the funds, I will contribute to the Pension Rights Center. You are so amazing with all of your passion for our cause.” — Edward G. a 67-year-old from Buffalo, NY
When people know what they’re entitled to, they can create a stronger financial future. That’s the ultimate aim of the PRC and the pension counseling projects.
The PRC has worked alongside many legal experts, lawmakers, nonprofits, and employers to make the retirement process easier to manage. Groups that support survivors of domestic violence have also reached out to the PRC for assistance in ensuring individuals and families can achieve financial stability after leaving an abusive relationship.
After a divorce, many individuals know to divvy up possessions, bank accounts, and property, but they may not think to divide a pension plan and see to it that ex-spouses can still get their fair share.
“This is an issue that frequently comes up in retirement plans, but other organizations and services often don’t have the resources or expertise to help,” Emily said. “Our goal is to change that by producing concrete tools that organizations working with divorced women can easily use and also by providing direct public education to impacted individuals themselves.”
Retirement is one of the biggest challenges facing the American workforce. My mom has earned a pension as an elementary school teacher, and my dad has spent years saving as much of his paycheck as possible. However, they still worry it won’t be enough to last them into their 80s or even 90s.
Planning for retirement can be difficult, and sometimes circumstances, such as a recent divorce, can further complicate the issue. Thankfully, the Pension Rights Center has created informational resources that can help people can learn about retirement benefits, seek legal assistance, and create a plan of action that’ll get them where they want to be.
Whether you want to claim a fair share of a former spouse’s retirement benefit or contribute to your own retirement fund, you can trust PRC to answer your questions and guide you through the process.
“We hope in the next year that we will make significant progress in educating more people about the process of dividing retirement benefits at divorce,” Emily said. “We also hope to find common ground solutions to some of the barriers that appear throughout the process and make it easier for anyone trying to divide their benefits at divorce.”
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