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A representative payee receives Social Security benefits for someone who is under 18 or has physical or cognitive limitations. The Social Security Administration (SSA) created the Representative Payee Program to serve individuals who cannot manage their Social Security payments.
A payee can be a family member or other trusted individual, or it can also be an institution or organization, such as a nursing home. In some cases, the SSA may require that a person have a payee and will appoint one for them, though beneficiaries (those receiving SS payments) can also willingly request one.
Here's how the program works, who qualifies and how to apply.
» Learn more: When to apply for Social Security and how
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."
Payees are responsible for managing the beneficiaries' funds to ensure that their fundamental requirements, such as food, clothes, shelter, and medical care, are met. However, being designated as a payee differs from having a power of attorney or health care proxy. Padilla says, "Payee authority to manage funds does not extend beyond SSA benefits." If you have a power of attorney for someone, you'll still need to apply separately to be their payee.
Furthermore, the program can be an alternative to conservatorship. Padilla says, "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."
» Learn more: Medicare for people with disabilities
Beneficiaries who meet the requirements to have a representative payee are either unable or unwilling to manage their benefits or are required to have one by the SSA. Typically, they are:
Social Security recipients under age 18 who receive disability or survivors' benefits as dependents.
People who have been declared legally incompetent by a judge.
Individuals who need help managing their funds, based on sufficient evidence and as determined by the SSA.
» Learn more: Three signs you'll be approved for SSDI
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, usually in person.
"We have never had any issues with individuals pursuing payee status unless the individual seeking to become payee has a criminal record," says attorney Tara Anne Pleat. "As long as the individual can maintain that they are capable of acting in the beneficiaries' best interests, they are usually awarded payee status."
Payees typically aren't paid for their services unless they're a member of an organization and the SSA explicitly gives them written permission to charge a fee.