Local 706 - The Artisan

Winter 2018

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8 • THE ARTISAN WINTER 2018 Pension Benefits Can Be Lost: Do Not Lose Yours by Neil Schwary Editor's note: This is solely the experience of the Schwary family, but felt it was a valuable learning tool for all of our members approaching retirement. Let me be clear that what you are about to read is not about the money. My mother's story, and what became mine and my brother's, needs to be shared to inform people of what can hap- pen before and after retiring from the Motion Picture Industry (MPI) Pension Plan. No one thinks about it until the time comes, and it is a complex issue with a lot of rules that can be very confusing. My goal is to share this information so it does not happen to you. If you are filing for your retirement, send in your Benefit Election Form before all other documents. I was never told this. This is the most important thing they need and it is not clearly explained. Please talk with a financial advisor and know your options. Time and money can be lost. What I learned by helping my mother through the retire- ment process is that the MPI Pension Plan is set up in a way that does not protect single, widowed or divorced individuals, especially ones who are terminally ill. My brother and I have a goal to change this. If you are approved for retirement but have not finished completing all forms before you turn in your complete application, you will lose your annuity benefit. If you are younger than retirement age and are vested, in the event of your death, your monthly annuity benefit goes to no one. This is unfair and not the way other unions are operating. For example, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) does not work like this and they have a very similar pension structure. If you are a participant in their plans and die before completing your retirement application or die prior to retirement, your monthly annuity benefit automatically gets paid out to your beneficiaries for a 10-year period. Why does MPI not structure their pen- sion this way? My mother, Susan Carol Schwary, was a two-time Emmy- nominated journeyman hair stylist in the film and television industry with a great talent for period hair styling and wig design. After winning a tough battle with breast cancer in the '90s, she recommitted to her work and took her career to another level while being devoted to her union. She was elected to the Local 706 Executive Board in 1998 and served for three terms. She was a delegate to the IATSE Convention in 2001, and on the Negotiating Committee in 2003 and 2006. She fought extensively to establish parity in wages between make-up artists and hair stylists and was an integral part in establishing the new title "Department Head" for hair stylists in order to gain recognition and respect for the autonomy of each craft. In May 2009, my mother was diagnosed with terminal meta- static breast cancer after being in complete remission for more than 14 years. Life changed in an instant for her, and our family scrambled to find ways to help. She had just wrapped the fifth season of CSI: NY and knew that her career had come to an end. She began filing her application for her disability retirement from the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan and her share of my father's DGA Pension Plan while she underwent medical tests and treatment. I quit my job and moved in with her and became her full-time caretaker. In July 2009, she went under hospice care. It became difficult for her to manage any business affairs and at the top of that list was her pension applications that needed to be completed. I stepped in to help and was learning about pensions on the fly. I was 32 years old at the time and not knowledgeable about this. The DGA Pension was pretty straightforward, as my father had already reached full retirement age and she could apply for her benefits at any time. The Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan was more complex because she was not at full retirement age and needed to have her early disability retirement approved by the Pension Board. After speaking with MPI over the phone and sending them what they needed from her, she was approved for her disability retirement in mid-July. There were many choices and lengthy forms to fill out. I needed help from representatives to help understand what to do, so I called them for advice. They explained that she needed to enforce a power of attorney in order for them to speak with me about the details. My mother had all of her estate affairs in order and we sent over a power of attor- ney that was already in place. They advised me to speak with a financial advisor to discuss the options, as they were not able to advise on specific details. My uncle, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley, assisted us with instructions on how to fill out the forms that would maximize her benefits. At this point, it was the end of July and my mother's health was declining quicker than expected. As the days went on, her health affairs became tougher to manage and it became the only priority for me as her caretaker. It was the beginning of August now and my mother landed in the hospital for a 24-day stay. Doctors were having difficulty getting rid of an infection and I stayed by her side, day and night, help- ing any way I could. Her business affairs also needed attention, most importantly, her pension applications that needed to be finished. On top of the many calls I had to make daily, I called the pensions to find out what else we needed to do. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right with her pensions. I did not have the forms with me at the hospital and was unsure of what to do, as they had explained to me before that the entire packet had to be turned in all at once. I called MPI's Pension department for directions. The representative assured me that everything would be fine, to take care of my mother, and get the forms turned in when I could and if they were turned in after the due date the retirement would only be delayed to the following month and no benefits would be lost. With this assur- ance, I turned my full attention back to my mother. The doctors could not get her infection under control and my mother was finally released from the hospital back to hos- GUILD NEWS GUILD NEWS

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