What is a representative payee, and can the Social Security Administration make me have one?

A representative payee is someone who receives your Social Security benefits. Your representative payee is required to use your Social Security payments for your benefit. Normally, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sends your check directly to you. However, if SSA finds that it would be in your best interest, SSA will appoint a person or entity to act as your representative payee and send your check to that party. 

The representative payee is required to use the benefits for your current maintenance. This means they must use the money for your food, shelter, clothing, etc. A representative payee can be a spouse, a relative, a legal guardian, a non-profit organization, or a nursing home. A creditor of yours cannot be a representative payee except in very limited circumstances. SSA ranks potential representative payees in an order of preference. For instance, your spouse would be preferred over a nursing home. 

Many laws exist that govern the actions of the representative payee. These laws and regulations are designed to prevent a representative payee from fraudulently spending your money. 

SSA presumes that any adult can manage his/her own affairs; however, SSA will accept evidence to determine if you are incapable of handling your monthly benefits. You do not have to be legally incompetent for SSA to appoint a representative payee.  

SSA must inform you of its decision to appoint a representative payee and the name of the potential representative. You may object to either of these decisions. SSA will then review your objection and make a determination. If you disagree with the determination, you can ask for a reconsideration. The reconsideration decision may also be appealed. 

If you want to appeal a decision to appoint a representative payee, or believe that you are the victim of fraud by your representative payee, you may contact your local SSA office or an attorney. 

For more information, see: 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.2001-.2065 (2015); Joan M. Krauskopf et al., Elderlaw: Advocacy for the Aging § 15.94 (2nd ed. 1993); Social Security Online, Representative Payee Program, http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ssi/text-repayee-ussi.htm (last visited June 8, 2015), http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10097.html (last visited June 8, 2015).