Through the Representative Payee Program, the Social Security Administration (SSA) appoints a representative payee to manage benefits payments for beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their benefits payments.
- For beneficiaries under 18, the SSA will appoint a representative payee to manage the benefits payments except for certain situations where the beneficiary shows the ability to manage the benefits.
- For beneficiaries over 18, the SSA will appoint a representative payee if the the beneficiary is legally incompetent or mentally or physically incapable of managing the benefit payments.
The SSA’s decision can be based on court determinations, medical evidence (usually's doctor's statement), and other evidence (e.g., statements of relatives, friends, etc.).
The SSA also considers:
- the relationship of the proposed representative payee to the beneficiary;
- the amount of interest the person may have in the beneficiary;
- any legal authority the person may have to act on behalf of the beneficiary;
- whether the potential payee has custody of the beneficiary;
- the ability of a potential payee to identify and look after the recipient’s needs;
- the potential payee's criminal history; and
- whether the beneficiary made an advance designation.
In addition, the SSA has established categories of preferred payees. For example, for beneficiaries over the age of 18, the first preference is a legal guardian, spouse (or other relative) who has custody of the beneficiary or demonstrates strong concern for the beneficiary's personal welfare.
A representative payee can be an individual, a public or nonprofit agency, an institution, or other qualified organization.
Read the law: U.S. Code, Title 42 § 405(j)
Appeals - You can appeal the SSA decision that you need a representative payee. You can also appeal the appointment of a specific individual or organization as the representative payee. You have 60 days to appeal a decision.
Representative Payee Responsibilities - A representative payee must use the benefits to pay for the cost of present needs first. This includes food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and personal comfort items. Next, if there is money available, then the representative payee can pay debts, help dependents, etc. A representative payee must keep records on the beneficiary’s behalf and submit periodic written reports to the SSA. If the funds are kept in a bank account, it must be a separate account.
Changing the Representative Payee - The SSA may change a representative payee if the current representative payee:
- has misused the benefits,
- has not carried out the responsibilities set forth by SSA regulations,
- no longer wants to be the payee,
- is unable to manage the benefit payments, or
- fails to provide evidence, accounting information, or other information sought by the SSA.
Incarcerated Representative Payee - If the Representative Payee becomes incarcerated, the SSA will look into whether the Representative Payee its still the best person to manage the payments on behalf of the Social Security beneficiary. The fact that the Representative Payee is in jail does not automatically mean that they cannot continue as a representative payee.
If an individual wishes to be appointed as a Representative Payee and is incarcerated, then the SSA will consider whether there is a better choice and the nature of the crime. It is not likely. If the crime involved a money fraud or theft or violence against the beneficiary, then the individual will not be appointed.