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?

20 C.F.R. §404.2001 et seq § 416.601et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 405( j )

  • 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?

20 C.F.R. §§404.2040 & 416.640

  • 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.

20 C.F.R §§404.2021(a); 416.621(a); 404.2050; 416.650

  • 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.

20 C.F.R. §§416.630, 404.2055, and 416.655; 42 U.S.C. §405( J )(1) and (2)

  • 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

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