If you have applied for benefits with the Social Security Administration, you may have been told that you need to get a representative payee, or you may have been asked by a close friend or relative to be a representative payee. In either case, it is important to know the facts about getting or being a representative payee.
Why were you told that you need to get a representative payee?
The law requires almost all children under the age of 18 to have payees, and it is usually a parent or guardian. Adults who are asked to get a representative payee usually have severe physical or emotional limitations that make them incapable of managing their own cash benefits. If you have a current or recent drug or alcohol problem, you may also be asked to get a representative payee.
What are the representative payee's responsibilities?
The representative payee makes decisions on how your benefits will be used in order to meet your needs. The payee is responsible for spending money for your food and shelter, clothing, education, recreation, and non-covered medical expenses. If there is money left after meeting your primary needs, it is the responsibility of the payee to distribute it to you as he or she sees suitable, or save it in a bank account for any future needs. The representative payee is also responsible for keeping track of how much he or she spends on your behalf. The payee must keep written forms, bank statements, and cancelled checks to prove that the funds have been properly managed. The payee must submit an annual accounting report to the Social Security Administration, which can be submitted online.
Can a representative payee charge me for services?
Individual payees cannot charge you for being your representative payee. However, there are community-based organizations and state agencies that provide representative payee services that can collect a fee if approved by the Social Security Administration. These organizations and agencies must be licensed or bonded in order to get approval.
My mother already has power of attorney for me. Isn’t that the same thing?
No. Although power of attorney is a way to assist you financially as well as legally, the Social Security Administration does not recognize this arrangement for managing your benefits. They require added accountability for representative payees and will not accept the power of attorney arrangement without an additional application. The representative payee candidate must apply in person at his or her local Social Security office and provide identification.
What happens if I feel that my representative payee is mismanaging my benefits?
A payee cannot use your money for his or her own personal expenses or spend it on items not relevant to your needs. He or she cannot put your cash benefits in another person’s bank account or distribute it to others inappropriately. It is very important that you get a representative payee whom you can trust with your finances and who will submit a legitimate annual accounting report to the Social Security Administration. If you suspect that your representative payee is misusing your benefits, contact your local Social Security office immediately. Representative payees can be removed if suspected of misusing your benefits and subjected to civil and criminal penalties. As a beneficiary, you have rights to protect your benefits. You may even want to contact local advocacy organizations to help you secure your benefits if misuse has occurred.
If my representative payee misuses my benefits, how will I get this money back?
If your representative payee misuses your benefits, that person is responsible for paying back the benefits. The Social Security Administration will try to obtain the misused benefits from the representative payee, so you can be refunded at the time of collection. However, if the Social Security Administration determines that they made a mistake in monitoring the accounting of your representative payee or they did not follow established procedures, they will refund your misused benefits as well as attempt to collect from the payee.
If your representative payee is an organization or an individual who is also serving at least 15 beneficiaries at the same time and has misused your benefits, the Social Security Administration will repay you as well as collect from the payee.
I don’t know anyone I can trust to be my representative payee. Will I still get my cash benefits until one is appointed?
Your monthly benefits can be paid directly to you until a suitable representative payee is selected, unless the Social Security Administration determines that these direct payments will cause you serious harm in some way. This determination is based on competence, age, and current or recent drug- and alcohol-related issues. The Social Security Administration will give you an opportunity to provide evidence that direct payment would not cause you serious harm and, if they agree with this evidence, they will pay you directly until a representative payee is appointed. If they do not agree with the evidence, your benefits may be suspended for up to one month. Payments will start again when a representative payee is appointed.
I am sure I am capable of managing my own benefits. Can I appeal the decision for a representative payee to be appointed?
Yes. You can appeal the determination for representative payee appointment with the Social Security Administration. The appeal should be filed at your local Social Security office.
The purpose of having a representative payee is to help you with your cash benefits if you are unable to manage them yourself. If you are considering taking on the responsibility of being a representative payee for a loved one, it is important to realize that you will be held accountable for managing these funds appropriately.
Visit Representative Payee Program (from Social Security Online) for more information.