A representative payee is a person or entity appointed by Social Security to manage benefit payments for someone unable to do so on their own — for example, a minor child, a severely disabled person or a retiree suffering from advanced dementia. More than 5.1 million Social Security beneficiaries had representative payees as of December 2019, the most recent data available, including:
- 1.5 million retired or disabled workers and their spouses, widows or widowers.
- 3.6 million children, a figure that includes people over 18 who have been disabled since childhood.
Representative payees also handle benefits for nearly 3 million recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a Social Security–administered benefit program for low-income people who are over 65, blind or disabled. (Some beneficiaries collect both SSI and Social Security payments.)
The payee is typically a relative or close friend of the beneficiary needing assistance, but Social Security can also name an organization or institution for the role. (Examples include nursing homes and social-service agencies.) Anyone applying for or receiving benefits may designate in advance someone they would like to serve as their payee if the need arises.
Among a range of duties, payees must:
- Use the beneficiary’s Social Security or SSI payments to meet his or her essential needs, such as food, shelter, household bills and medical care. The money can also be used for personal needs like clothing and recreation.
- Keep any remaining money from benefit payments in an interest-bearing bank account or savings bonds for the beneficiary's future needs.
- Keep records of benefit payments received and how the money was spent or saved.
- Report to Social Security any changes or events that could affect the beneficiary's payments (for example, a move, marriage, divorce or death).
- Report any circumstances that affect the payee’s ability to serve in the role.
As a representative payee, you can’t mingle the beneficiary’s Social Security payments with your own money or use them for your own needs. The bank account into which benefits are deposited should be fully owned by the beneficiary, with the payee listed as financial agent.
Some payees, generally those who do not live with the beneficiary, are required to submit annual reports to Social Security accounting for how benefits are used. You’ll find more on the responsibilities and restrictions that come with the role in the Social Security publication “A Guide for Representative Payees.”
If you believe someone you know may need a representative payee, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 and make an appointment to discuss the matter at your local office. Applying to serve as a payee usually requires a face-to-face interview.
[Editor’s note: Local Social Security offices are currently closed to walk-in visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Social Security services are available online and by phone. If you have a "dire need situation" regarding your benefits or need to update information attached to your Social Security number, such as your name or citizenship status, you may be able to schedule an in-person appointment. See Social Security's coronavirus page or call your local office for more information.]
Social Security may consider other evidence in deciding if a beneficiary needs a payee and selecting the person to fill the role, including doctors’ assessments and statements from relatives, friends and others in a position to give an informed opinion about the beneficiary’s situation.
Keep in mind
- Individuals cannot collect a fee for serving as a representative payee. Some organizations that serve in the role do receive fees, paid out of the beneficiary’s Social Security or SSI payments.
- Having power of attorney or being an authorized representative does not confer authority to manage someone’s Social Security benefits. Only a representative payee can do so.
Updated May 21, 2021
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