Written by attorney Brittany Green Gloersen

Understanding the role of a Social Security Representative Payee

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides guidelines for serving as a Representative Payee. Many Representative Payees are not aware of these guidelines. This lack of understanding often results in Social Security (SS) benefits not being used as effectively as possible on behalf of beneficiaries.

What is a Representative Payee?

If a beneficiary of SS benefits cannot manage his or her money, the SSA can appoint an individual or organization as a Representative Payee to manage the beneficiary’s money. The primary role of the Representative Payee is to use the benefits to satisfy the basic maintenance needs of the beneficiary.

What are the required duties of a Representative Payee?

According to the SSA web site, the Representative Payee must perform the following duties:

· Determine the beneficiary’s needs and use his or her payments to meet those needs;

· Save any money left after meeting the beneficiary’s current needs in an interest-bearing account or savings bonds for the beneficiary's future needs;

· Report any changes or events that could affect the beneficiary’s eligibility for benefits or payment amount;

· Keep records of all payments received and how they are spent and/or saved;

· Provide benefit information to social service agencies or medical facilities that serve the beneficiary;

· Help the beneficiary get medical treatment when necessary;

· Notify SSA of any changes in the Representative Payee's circumstances that would affect the Representative Payee’s performance;

· Complete written reports accounting for the use of funds; and

· Return any payments to which the beneficiary is not entitled to SSA.

What may benefits be used for?

A Representative Payee has the responsibility to use the SS funds for the benefit of the beneficiary. A Representative Payee’s first consideration must be to ensure the beneficiary’s current maintenance needs are met. The maintenance needs include food, clothing, shelter, utilities, dental and medical care, personal comfort items and any other reasonably foreseeable needs.

In some cases, SS funds will not be needed for these purposes. For example, if the beneficiary’s basic maintenance needs are being paid for by Medicaid assistance, SS funds can be either saved or used for items that improve the beneficiary’s daily living conditions or to provide better medical care. For instance, the funds can be used formajor health-related expenses, a motorized wheelchair, rehabilitation expenses or insurance premiums. Additionally, some of the money can be used for recreation such as movies, concerts, magazine subscriptions or a trip for the beneficiary. According toSSA web site, if the current maintenance needs of a beneficiary are met, part of the funds can be used for the support of his or her legally dependent spouse.If a Representative Payee is uncertain about whether an expenditure is proper, he or she should contact the local Social Security office.

What may a Representative Payee not do?

According to the SSA web site, a Representative Payee may not:

· Sign legal documents, other than Social Security documents, on behalf of a beneficiary.

· Have legal authority over earned income, pensions, or any income from sources other than SS benefits.

· Use a beneficiary's money for the Representative Payee's personal expenses, or spend funds in a way that would leave the beneficiary without necessary items or services (housing, food, medical care).

· Put a beneficiary's SS benefits in the payee’s or another person's account.

· Use a child beneficiary's "dedicated account" funds for basic living expenses. This only applies to disabled/blind SSI beneficiaries under age 18.

· Keep conserved funds after being discharged as the Representative Payee.

· Charge the beneficiary for services unless authorized by SSA to do so.

Who should a Representative Payee contact if he or she has questions?

A Representative Payee should call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days, or contact the local SSA office between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on business days, if he or she has questions. People who are deaf or hearing-impaired may call the toll-free "TTY" number, at 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. Many questions can be answered by visiting the SSA web site at

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