The Powers and Responsibilities of Representative Payees

On April 15, 2014

Do you have a friend or loved one who receives Social Security and is unable to manage her payments? If so, you can request that the Social Security Administration (SSA), the government agency that disburses Social Security, name you as the representative payee for that person.

Being a representative payee gives you the power and the responsibility to manage that money for your friend or loved one. (The Office of Personnel Management and the Railroad Retirement Board also appoint representative payees and the responsibilities are basically the same.)

As a representative payee, you only have the power to handle the Social Security benefit for your friend or loved one (the beneficiary) and not any other money or property for that person unless some other document or government agency appoints you to do so.

It is important to remember that the check from the SSA is not yours; it belongs to the beneficiary. The beneficiary is supposed to get the benefit of the money. Your role includes performing four very important duties:

1)      You must act only in the beneficiary’s best interest. You cannot pay yourself for managing their money and you cannot borrow it or lend it to anyone else; those would be conflicts of interest, which you must avoid.

2)      You must manage the beneficiary’s Social Security check carefully, which means you should make sure the beneficiary’s daily needs and any other foreseeable needs are met, bills are paid on time, and all taxes are paid.

3)      You must keep the money from the Social Security check separate from your own money, which means you cannot keep the money in any kind of joint account. If you have to open an account or sign anything for the beneficiary, sign “(beneficiary’s name) by (your name), representative payee” so everyone knows you are acting on the beneficiary’s behalf.

4)      You must keep good records of everything you do with the beneficiary’s money, which means keeping track of all money you spend for the beneficiary, keeping all receipts, making annual reports to the SSA, and generally keeping the SSA informed about both the beneficiary and yourself.

Remember, there may be other people appointed to help the same beneficiary with other things. They have the same general duties as you, and all of you must work together to assist the beneficiary.

If you are not a family member and the beneficiary has family, it may be prudent to keep family members informed about what you are doing for the beneficiary, so as to reduce the chance that they will have problems with your actions. In the end, however, the decisions about the Social Security check are yours to make because you are responsible. You are the one who will get in trouble if something goes wrong. For example, if someone thinks you violated one of your four important duties, they can report you to the SSA. The SSA will investigate, and if it decides that you misused the beneficiary’s money, it will make you replace what was lost out of your own pocket.

If you have more questions about what it means to be a representative payee, check out http://www.ssa.gov/payee.

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