Sometimes the Social Security Administration (SSA) will decide that it is in your best interest to have your benefit payments handled by someone else. This person, or organization, is called a representative payee. The administrative law judge (ALJ) that hears your Social Security disability case usually makes this decision and may discuss it with you during your hearing. But oftentimes you will not learn that your payments will be made to a representative payee until you receive your written decision.
A representative payee is a person or organization that receives your Social Security or SSI disability benefits on your behalf. A representative payee must use your payments for your support and care only. Your representative payee may use the money to pay bills, buy food and clothing, save for your future, pay for your entertainment, or in any other manner that is in your best interest and for your benefit.
The SSA decided you needed a representative payee because it believed you were unable to successfully manage your benefits. This decision is usually based on evidence presented in your case. Here are some examples.
When deciding on whom to appoint as your representative payee, the SSA will look first at whether you live with someone who helps takes care of you. If you do not, the SSA may choose a family member, friend, legal guardian, or a lawyer. The goal of the SSA is to select someone who knows you well, sees you frequently, and is familiar with your needs and wants.
If none of these options are available, the SSA may select an organization that specializes in handling Social Security benefits for people. Or, if you live in a nursing home, the facility may receive the benefits to pay for your care.
Although the SSA decides who your representative payee is, at your hearing the ALJ may discuss with you whether you have any preferences about whom you would like, or not like, to handle your benefits.
You need to keep your representative payee apprised of any major life changes that may affect your eligibility for benefits. Here are some examples:
If you fail to tell your representative payee about any of these factors, you may get more money than you are eligible for. If this happens you may be required to repay these funds (called overpayments).
Once you have received written notice from the SSA that it has assigned you a representative payee, you have 60 days to appeal the decision in writing. If you don’t like the representative payee that was chosen for you, you must appeal the choice in this time frame as well. Make sure you explain in detail why you disagree with the decision.
If you decide that you want to change the representative payee who has been handling your money, you should first tell your payee of your decision. After you have advised your current payee, the new person you have selected must go to your local SSA office and file an application.
To get control of your benefits back, you must prove to the SSA that you are mentally and physically capable of handling your own money. Here are some examples of how you can show this.
Keep in mind that if your condition has improved so much that you can now care for your personal affairs, the SSA may use this as evidence that you are no longer disabled, which could result in a loss of your disability benefits.
If you think your payee is misusing your money, you must advise the SSA as soon as possible and the SSA will investigate your concern. A representative payee who misuses your funds is committing theft and can face criminal charges.
Payees must comply with detailed reporting requirements. For more information, see our article on how payees must account to Social Security.