A representative payee is a person who has been chosen by the Social Security Administration to receive a Social Security or Supplemental Security Income check on behalf of another person.
When will a representative payee be appointed?
- If the recipient (actual person receiving SSA benefits) has a drug addiction or alcoholic condition.
- If the recipient is under age 18. There is an exception if the person receiving the funds is capable of handling their own benefits.
- The SSA’s decision is based on medical evidence (usually doctor’s statement) or may follow a court order. Statements of relatives, friends, etc. may also be used.
What are the obligations of a representative payee?
A representative payee has a legal obligation to use the benefits to pay for:
- the cost of present needs first, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and personal comfort items, and then
- pay debts, help dependents, etc.
- A representative payee must keep records on the beneficiary’s behalf.
- If the funds are kept in a bank account, it must be a separate account.
- A representative payee must submit periodic written reports to the SSA.
I am the recipient of the checks and want to change my representative payee.
The SSA appoints representative payees based on
- the amount of interest the person may have in the beneficiary,
- the legal authority the person may have to act on behalf of the beneficiary, and
- the ability of a potential representative payee to identify and look after the recipient’s needs.
The SSA may change a representative payee if the present payee:
- has not used the benefit payments on the beneficiary’s behalf, or
- has not carried out the responsibilities set forth by SSA regulations, or
- dies, or
- no longer wants to be the payee, or
- is unable to manage the benefit payments, or
- fails to provide evidence, accounting information, or other information sought by the SSA.
I want to handle my own checks.
- The beneficiary has the right to appeal the SSA determination that a representative payee is needed and is entitled to notification before a representative payee is paid.
- A beneficiary may seek to have direct payments restored by showing mental and physical ability to manage or direct management of the payments.
A beneficiary seeking to restore direct payments should obtain:
- a physician’s or medical officer’s statement showing the beneficiary’s ability, or
- a certified copy of a court order restoring the beneficiary’s rights if the beneficiary had previously been deemed legally incompetent, or
- any other evidence that can establish the beneficiary’s ability.
What are the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) responsibilities regarding representative payees?
- The SSA must keep a list of representative payees terminated after January 1, 1991.
- The SSA is liable for misused benefits if it fails to investigate a representative payee and is negligent for doing so.
Edited by Richard Neuworth, Esq., Maryland State Bar Association, Section on Elder Law and Disability Rights