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What's a Representative Payee?

It's a person with a special assignment to help a beneficiary manage the monthly check

Q. What's a Social Security "representative payee"?

A. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), there are more than 7 million people who get benefits from Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) but need help managing their money.

See also: Do you need disability insurance?

To provide that help, SSA appoints a relative, friend or other trusted person to act as a "representative payee" for the beneficiary. If you agree to serve in this role, Social Security will pay the benefits to you so you can use the money on the person's behalf. With just a few exceptions, representative payees are not allowed to charge fees for their services.

The job requires considerable work. You must know the beneficiary's needs intimately so you can decide how to use the benefits for his or her care and well-being. You must assure that day-to-day needs for food and shelter are met. If you're a payee for a child who gets SSI benefits, you'll be responsible for seeing that the child receives any needed medical treatment.

If there's money left over, it should be saved in an interest-bearing account or U.S. Savings Bonds for the beneficiary's future use.

You'll be required to keep detailed records of the money received and spent. Each year, you'll have to report this information to Social Security. To apply to become a payee, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office. You'll need to fill out SSA Form 11 and provide documents to prove your identity. For more information, see A Guide for Representative Payees.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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