What Is a Social Security Representative Payee?

The Social Security Administration names a representative payee for people unable to manage Social Security payments.
Cheryl Lock
By Cheryl Lock 
Edited by Tina Orem

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A representative payee manages the Social Security benefits for someone who is under 18, has physical or cognitive limitations or is otherwise unable to do so themself

Social Security Adminstration. Representative Payee. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.

A representative payee can be a family member or other trusted individual, or it can be an institution or organization, such as a nursing home

Social Security Administration. Guide for Organizational Representative Payees. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.
. In some cases, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may require that a person have a representative payee and will appoint one for them, though beneficiaries can also willingly request one.

How the Representative Payee Program works

The SSA requires payees for "minor children and people declared 'legally incompetent' by a court of law," says Irene N. Padilla, an associate managing attorney at Disability Rights California, a disability rights advocacy group. In addition, Padilla says, beneficiaries may also voluntarily request a payee even if the SSA doesn't require one. "Anyone who has applied for benefits, or who already receives benefits can also select up to three people as representative payees, should the need arise."

However, being a payee isn't the same as having a power of attorney or health care proxy. "Payee authority to manage funds does not extend beyond SSA benefits," Padilla says. If you have a power of attorney for someone, you'll still need to apply separately to be their payee

Social Security Administration. A Guide for Representative Payees. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.

Being a payee may be helpful in situations that may warrant conservatorship. "Representative payeeship is a viable alternative to conservatorship for beneficiaries and families looking for a less restrictive means of helping a beneficiary manage their SSA funds," Padilla says.

Did you know...

If you are unable to designate someone you know to be your representative payee, the SSA can help you find an organization that can fill the role.

What a representative payee does

Payees are responsible for managing beneficiaries' Social Security payments to ensure that their fundamental requirements, such as food, clothes, shelter, and medical care, are met.

After a payee covers these expenses, they can use the leftover funds to improve the beneficiary’s daily life, including:

  • Improving living conditions.

  • Paying medical bills or for health-related costs that the beneficiary’s insurance doesn’t cover.

  • Buying a home, furniture or a car for the beneficiary.

  • Paying for training or school costs.

  • Providing recreation, such as movie tickets, books and concert tickets.

The payee must save any remaining funds.

A payee must also report changes to the beneficiary’s eligibility and factors affecting their benefit amount. These can include events such as the beneficiary moving to a new location, working and earning an income, receiving other government benefits, getting married or traveling outside the U.S. for 30 days or more.

You can report a payee for misuse of funds.

If you have a payee or someone you know has a representative payee and you believe they are misusing funds, report it to the SSA immediately so the agency can investigate your concerns.

Who is eligible for a representative payee

The SSA requires beneficiaries who are unable to manage their benefits, including adults who are declared legally incompetent and minor children, to have representative payees. However, if you believe a representative payee will better manage your funds for you, you can designate one without being in either of those categories.

If you believe a beneficiary is unable to manage their benefits, you can call the SSA to request that they investigate the beneficiary’s abilities to determine if they need a payee.

What is a Representative Payee Report?

Payees must complete a Representative Payee Report every year that they act as a payee to show how they spent their beneficiary’s funds.

The SSA mails the report to all payees who are required to complete it. Payees who are 18 or older can complete the report online; payees under 18 must fill out the paper report and mail it back to the SSA

Social Security Administration. Internet Representative Payee Accounting Report. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.

Payees who don’t have to submit the report include:

  • Biological and adoptive parents and legal guardians living in the same household as a child beneficiary.

  • Biological or adoptive parents living in the same household as an adult beneficiary who is disabled.

  • A beneficiary’s spouse.

Regardless of whether a payee is required to complete a Representative Payee Report, they must maintain records of how benefit payments are managed.

The SSA can visit you in person and request to see your records in lieu of the report. This is to ensure the payee is properly managing the beneficiary’s funds


What is an advanced designation or representative payee?

You can designate a representative payee in advance. This ensures that everything is in place and isn’t delayed if you suddenly need a payee to manage your benefits. This isn’t required, but it may make the transition easier

Social Security Administration. When a Representative Payee Manages Your Money. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.
. You will go through the same process with the SSA to name representative payees in advance.

How to apply to be a representative payee

If someone has asked you to be their payee, contact your local Social Security office and fill out form SSA-11. You'll need to provide documents that prove your identity and Social Security number, usually in person.

What to know when designating a representative payee

A Social Security representative payee can’t manage other money or property for you. This designation allows a payee to manage only your Social Security benefits. If you want someone to manage your other money or property, you’ll need to speak with an attorney

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What is a Social Security representative payee?. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.

A payee must keep track of all of your benefits. A payee must report every purchase they make with your benefit funds. It is illegal for them to spend the money on unapproved purchases. If you suspect your payee is mismanaging your money, you can report it to the SSA.

You can change who serves as your payee. If you want to designate a new representative payee, you can notify the SSA and ask your desired payee to fill out a representative payee application at a local Social Security office. However, the SSA will need to go through the process with the new payee, so it is unlikely that the new representative payee will be approved immediately.

Tips for being a representative payee

Don’t mix funds. A payee must keep a beneficiary’s funds in a separate checking or savings account — they should never mix those funds with their own money. The beneficiary must be listed as the owner of the account and the payee as the financial agent. The exception is a parent or spouse living in the same household; in that case the parent or spouse may be the owner of the account.

Watch SSI beneficiaries’ resources. If a payee is managing money for a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiary, they need to ensure that they do not cause the beneficiary to lose their SSI eligibility. This means avoiding acquiring assets or saving so much money that the beneficiary's resources rise above the eligibility limit.

Don’t forget about taxes. Some beneficiaries must pay income tax on their Social Security benefits. The SSA sends out benefit statements each year to payees to use in completing a beneficiary’s income taxes.

Keep records for three years. The SSA requires payees to keep records for the current year plus the previous two years

Social Security Administration. Using Funds and Keeping Records. Accessed Jan 18, 2024.

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