Learn when Social Security will send your disability benefits to a representative payee to manage and about the payee’s duties and responsibilities.

What is a Representative Payee?

A representative payee is a reliable person chosen by the Social Security Administration to receive and manage the use of your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits so that you are assured of having your basic needs met by the receipt of benefits. The representative payee appointment applies only to Social Security and/or  SSI benefits, not to any other aspect of your financial life.

When Does Social Security Require a Representative Payee

There are two situations in which Social Security regulations require that disability benefits to be paid to a representative payee. First, representative payees are appointed to receive and manage benefits that are payable to a minor. Second, if you are an adult or an emancipated minor, a representative payee will be appointed to manage your benefits if, due to your physical health, you are unable to direct the use of your funds or if, due to your illness, your judgment is impaired, so that there is a reasonable possibility that you will not have the capacity to make sound financial decisions to take care of yourself. If at some point your health improves and you are still disabled and eligible for benefits, then your benefits may be paid directly to you at that time.

Representative Payee Responsibilities

Your representative payee is directed to use your disability benefits to first pay for your current shelter, food, clothing, personal care items, medical and dental care, and rehabilitation services, if applicable. If there is money left over, your payee can use your benefits to pay your past-due bills, to support your dependents, or for your entertainment or to improve your living environment. Any excess must be saved in an account held in your name, but controlled by your payee.

Your payee should show you how much money you get from Social Security and how much he or she spends on your needs. It is also appropriate for you to voice your opinion on how you would like the money spent, although the payee makes the final decision. Representative payees must keep records of how they spend your benefits and report on the management of your money to the Social Security Administration annually.

How does Social Security select a representative payee for my Social Security Disability benefit?

Learn how Social Security selects a representative payee for your Social Security Disability benefit and how you can give input to the selection.

Criteria for Selecting a Representative Payee

Social Security’s primary concerns in selecting a representative payee to receive and manage your Social Security Disability benefits are that the person knows you well, wants to help you, sees you often, knows your needs, and will act with integrity on your behalf. Frequently, the person who best meets these requirements is someone who lives with you, such as a relative or friend, or even a caregiver. Other times, the person who is best qualified to serve as your payee is your legal guardian or lawyer.

An organization such as a nursing home where you are residing or an agency from which you are receiving assistance may serve as payee when an private individual is not available or is not the best choice for you.

Voicing Your Preference for a Representative Payee

If you have someone you would like to serve as your payee, you can tell the Social Security Administration and they will consider your request. While you have input to Social Security’s choice of payee, Social Security does not have to appoint that person if they believe it would not be in your best interest and you cannot appeal who is made payee. However, if at any time you believe that your payee is handling your money incorrectly or dishonestly, you should notify the Social Security Administration immediately so that they can investigate whether your payee should be changed.

Do I have to have a representative payee for my Social Security Disability payments?

If you are an adult, when the claims examiner reviews your claim to determine whether you are eligible for benefits, he or she also reviews all the information in your claim file to determine your capability to manage money. Capability means that you have the physical and mental capacity and judgment to either use or direct someone to use your funds to take care of your current needs. This includes prioritizing your basic needs of shelter, food, clothing, personal care items, and medical and dental care first. If it is determined that you are not able to do this because of your medical or psychiatric condition, then the Social Security Administration must pay your benefits to a representative payee.

When and How to Appeal a Representative Payee Decision

If you have been advised that a representative payee will be appointed to receive your benefits and you believe that you are capable of making appropriate financial decisions to care for yourself, it can be helpful to discuss the matter with a physician who knows you well. If your doctor agrees that you are capable of handling your funds, then it could be appropriate to appeal, submitting a letter from the doctor that explains why the doctor believes you are capable of handling your own funds.  

If you are under age eighteen, unless you have been legally emancipated, you must have a representative payee to receive and manage your Social Security disability payments. While theoretically a minor could appeal this decision, the likelihood of winning such an appeal is virtually nil.

While you can appeal the need for a payee, if it is found that you need a payee, you cannot appeal the choice of who serves as your payee. You can, of course, provide input into the selection process, but the final decision belongs to Social Security.