Monday, October 25, 2010

What are Representative Payees?

A relatively common scenario encountered by claimants is the situation where the claim has been awarded, but the claimant has been informed that he will not receive the funds directly. Instead, the funds will be distributed to a third-party “representative payee.” A representative payee is a person, agency, organization or institution that the Social Security Administration selects to manage a claimant’s funds when the claimant is determined to be incapable of doing so.

The first question the claimant will ask is, “why am I not receiving my funds directly?” The short answer is that they fall within one of the three categories of claimants the Social Security Administration has determined must have a representative payee. The first two categories are pretty straightforward and include most children under the age of 18 and legally incompetent adults.

The third and most common category though is anyone that Social Security determines to be incapable of managing or directing the management of his or her funds. Since a finding of disability is obviously a prerequisite to obtaining benefits under Social Security’s Disability and Supplemental Security Income programs, it stands to reason that a representative payee could be found necessary in all cases. Fortunately, the rules are not quite so liberal and the necessary finding that must be made before a payee is established is not an arbitrary process. There are strict standards in place requiring the Social Security Administration to evaluate medical or other types of evidence concerning the claimant’s ability to manage his benefits.

The next question becomes, “who may serve as a representative payee.” The answer is almost anyone. For example, a representative payee may be someone concerned about the claimant’s welfare (e.g. parent, spouse, guardian, friend), and an institution/entity, such as a nursing hone, nonprofit agency, or administrators at a homeless shelter. One of the few limitations is that the payee cannot be a convicted felon.

The payee does not have unlimited discretion in spending the funds. The payee must ascertain the needs of the claimant and use the benefits in his best interests. Funds must first be used for basic needs such as food, clothing and housing. The payee must also account for how the money is used each year.

Finally, either the claimant or the payee may request that the relationship be changed or terminated at any time. Upon receipt of the request, the Social Security Administration will investigate the situation and determine whether the request is appropriate.


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