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.
As of December 2020, the most recent data available, about 5 million Social Security recipients — 7.7 percent of the beneficiary population — had representative payees, including:
- 1.4 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.
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Representative payees also handle benefits for more than 2.9 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.