A significant number of those receiving disability benefits are not only too disabled to make a living, they are also too disabled to care for their most basic needs. In these cases, disability recipients may choose a representative payee to receive their monthly payment and to use the money to provide them with the day-to-day care they need.
What Does a Representative Payee Do?
Representative payees have a number of very important responsibilities. A representative payee needs to make sure that the Social Security disability recipient’s needs are met. Specifically, a representative payee needs to:
- Keep detailed records of how the money is spent. Each year you will need to let the Social Security Administration know how the money was spent by filing a Representative Payee Report. However, that isn’t the only reason to keep records—records can help you understand where the money goes and help you plan for your loved one’s future.
- Consider opening a separate bank account. Having a separate account at a bank or credit union for your disabled loved one can help keep you organized and keep the funds separate from your other finances.
- Notify Social Security of any changes. If your loved one becomes employed, if their health changes, or if they pass away, you need to contact the Social Security Administration and share these changes with them. Not doing so can have serious consequences.
Additionally, making a budget is a big part of your responsibility as a representative payee. As you make a budget, it is important to consider:
- Cost of shelter. First and foremost, pay the Social Security disability recipient’s rent (or mortgage), utility bills, and other household costs.
- Food and clothing. Make certain that your loved one is well fed and comfortably clothed. You may wish to look for programs for the disabled in your community that assist those in need.
- Personal care items. Your loved one will need personal hygiene items, haircuts, lotion, and other daily use items that are considered basic needs.
- Medical expenses. This includes co-pays, dental expenses, prescriptions, daily care, therapy, and any other expenses related to your loved one’s health or disability needs.
- Entertainment and comforts. After your loved one’s basic needs are met, spend money on hobbies, a restaurant meal, a movie, books, or other enjoyable pastimes that improve your loved one’s quality of life.
- Savings. Your loved one may confront an emergency—a medical expense, a move, or a home improvement, for example—that requires extra funds. Putting a few dollars aside every month in anticipation of such events can make all the difference.
There Are a Few Things Representative Payees Can’t Do
A representative payee does not automatically have power of attorney. That means that you cannot act on the behalf of the Social Security recipient just because you are the representative payee, although you may do so if you have a separate power of attorney. Additionally, you may not mix your own money with the Social Security recipient’s money or use Social Security money for your own expenses. The penalties for a representative payee who misuses Social Security disability benefits can be significant and may include fines or jail time.
Being the representative payee for a loved one is a huge responsibility—and a huge act of love and kindness. If you have a question about Social Security disability benefits or being a Social Security representative payee, reach out to the disability lawyers in Dallas at Morgan & Weisbrod today.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.