What is a Representative Payee for SSI?

What is a representative payee for SSI? If your adult child gets SSI and can’t manage their own benefits, here’s what you need to know.

A woman holds her young son on a swing. She can be the rep payee for his SSI benefits.

Are you applying for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) for your child with a disability? If your child will soon turn 18, or if your child is an adult who can’t manage their own benefits, it’s important to know what it means to be a rep payee, or Representative Payee, for SSI.

Who needs a Rep Payee for SSI?

Some people who get SSI are not able to manage their money by themselves. They may need support in paying bills, writing checks, filing taxes, making major purchases, and so on. In these cases, a representative payee (or ‘Rep Payee’) can be set up to receive the SSI payments on their behalf. A Rep Payee is often a parent, guardian, or other responsible family member.

SSI assumes that SSI beneficiaries (recipients) are able to manage their own money. A recipient only needs a Rep Payee if:

  • They are under 18
  • They are over 18 but need a legal guardian to help make important decisions

    In some cases SSI will gather evidence to decide if someone who does not fit into either of these categories needs a Rep Payee.

What does a Rep Payee do?

If you are a Rep Payee, you are responsible for managing the benefit payments for the beneficiary (recipient) and using the money in their best interest. This means you:

Receive the beneficiary’s SSI checks. You will need to open a separate bank account for this that makes it clear that the money belongs to the beneficiary. Both your name and the recipient’s name must be on the account. (Your bank will help you with this.)

Use the funds to pay for or buy what the beneficiary needs, like personal care items, recreational activities, food, shelter, or any medical or dental care not covered by insurance. You cannot use the money for yourself or other family members or use any of it as payment for your work.

Keep records of any SSI money you get, spend, and save. Your records should include bank statements, canceled checks, and receipts for everything you buy with this money. 

Make sure the beneficiary is reporting their income to the SSA on a monthly basis. Income received by the beneficiary reduces the SSI check the following month.

In some cases, you will need to complete a Representative Payee Report every year with all of this information. You do not need to do this report if you are the person’s parent, legal guardian, or spouse, and you live with them.

You should also watch out if SSI overpays (pays more than they should). This can happen if your family member starts to earn more money and you don’t report the change. Your family member will have to pay back the difference.

Report any changes or events that might impact the person’s eligibility, like if the beneficiary:

  • Gets married or gets adopted
  • Gets a new job or loses a job
  • Becomes more or less able to work because of the condition of their disability

Communicate directly with Social Security about your family member’s benefits (for example, to report changes or respond to SSI letters).

Make sure the account stays below $2,000. If the person has more than $2,000 between their bank account and any other assets they own, they will no longer qualify for SSI and will not get the next payment. If the account balance gets close, spend it down on items they need or transfer some money into an ABLE account if they have one. 

(Who qualifies for SSI? Read more about resource limits for SSI for children 17 and under, and adults 18 and older.)

How do I become a Rep Payee?

You will automatically be the Rep Payee if you are:

  • The parent or legal guardian for a child under 18 (If your child has two parents or guardians, only one will be the Rep Payee)
  • Already named as the legal guardian for your adult child or other adult family member

If you are not the legal guardian and your family member is an adult, Social Security will need proof that your family member needs help managing their money. They may ask for more information from a doctor or other health care provider.

If your family member is an adult and they are able to, they can tell SSI their preference for who becomes their Rep Payee.

You will need to fill out the Request to Be Selected as Payee Form. Bring this to your local Social Security office along with your Social Security number and documents proving your identity.

If you are wondering if it makes sense to become your adult child’s Rep Payee for SSI, start the conversation as soon as possible. There’s a lot to learn, but if your child can’t make these decisions independently, this is a great way to support them.

Learn more:

This content was reviewed for accuracy by Karen B. Mariscal, Esq. www.Kmariscallaw.com

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