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What is a representative payee?

Do you have a loved one who's receiving Social Security benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but you're concerned that they aren't able to manage that money? Maybe they're losing track of it, they're spending it on things they don't need or it's just plain being stolen from them. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has something called a Representative Payment Program that can help.

Under that program, SSA will appoint a representative payee who will receive the payments and manage them on behalf of the SSI beneficiary. The payee is expected to keep the money in a separate account and use it only for the beneficiary.

The SSA prefers these payees to be family members or friends. However, if there are none available, they may appoint a qualified organization to take on that responsibility.

Representative payees are responsible for keeping records of what the payments are used for. Close family members such as parents (as long as they're in the same house as the beneficiary) and spouses don't have to file an annual report with the SSA. However, they need to have the information available should the agency request it.

In recent years, the federal government, thanks to disability rights advocates, has taken steps to increase oversight of representative payees to help ensure that they don't become the victims of financial abuse and exploitation. As the head of one advocacy group says, "For too long dishonest representative payees have exploited and abused people with disabilities without fear of being discovered." Every state has a Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency that monitors and investigations possible violations by representative payees.

If you have questions about getting a representative payee for yourself or someone else or have concerns about a representative payee who's already been appointed, an attorney experienced in dealing with Social Security programs can provide help and information.

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