I have to admit that when I need to phone either a provincial or federal government office, I generally procrastinate.  I anticipate the worst customer service experience.  I think I’ll get the run around or be left on hold forever.  However, the reality is that almost all of my experiences have been very positive and none have been out-right terrible.

When it comes to retirement entitlements there can be some challenges because of the variations in timing, eligibility and rule changes.  With age, these can seem even more daunting.  I won’t go into every decision or action needed regarding retirement entitlements but there are three areas I think most people do not fully understand.

1.  Everyone should apply for the guaranteed income supplement (GIS):  Even if you believe that you will never qualify for this benefit because your income is too high, you should apply – once.   Once you are on-file, the government will automatically recalculate your eligibility each year.  If something unforeseen happens to your retirement income (for example a private pension plan bankruptcy) you may become eligible.  By applying at the outset of your retirement you alleviate one added stressor should a problem arise during your retirement.  By the way – there is a new initiative of pro-active enrolment by the government, but it remains unclear as to how this will be undertaken.  Don’t assume you have been identified for enrolment – do the paperwork!

2.  Can you call the government on your aging parents’ behalf?  Yes you can.  You need to complete a “consent to communicate” form in order to do this and your parents need to sign the form.  This will allow for sharing of information but it will not allow for any change of banking information.  You will need to complete this form for every government office you need to talk with.  For example, completing the form for CRA will not allow you to talk to the CPP folks.

3.  Your parents are separating – but it’s not their choice:  This is referred to as an “involuntary separation” and can occur when one of the couple can no longer live in the family home.  This can be devastating for family finances.  Maintaining the family home along with fees for a special care home can be unmanageable for many couples.  If the couple is receiving GIS benefits the government will recalculate the benefits to determine the best option for the couple to ensure they receive the most amount of money possible.  For example, this may mean considering each as a single person with low income.  But you need to initiate this calculation by contacting the government.

Information and forms are found at: http://www.canadabenefits.gc.ca/ .  And one last hint – when using this web site always respond with ‘yes’ to any question that asks if you qualify as having ‘low income’.  This will ensure that all options for entitlements are displayed.  Then you can review each option and determine what you really are eligible for.  This ensures that you don’t let the computer system self-select you out of an entitlement.