A representative payee is someone who is designated to manage your Social Security disability money. Not everyone has a representative payee. You will only have a payee if Social Security decides you cannot manage your own money.
Having someone manage your money and bills sounds great, but it does not always work out great. The reviews are mixed. Reports from readers:
Some People Like Having a Payee
Some people like having a representative payee, because it is helpful and less stressful to have someone else handle finances. A representative payee can help making sure your basic bills like food and rent get paid.
A payee can be a good idea if you may spend money you need for basic living expenses. For example, if you have a gambling addiction, or sometimes goes into manic states and spends or give away your money.
A payee can also be a good idea if your illness or symptoms are so severe that you are unable to pay your bills, and cannot ask for help, and cannot direct others to help you.
Some People Like Having a Payee… At First
Some people like having a rep payee at first, but later on that person dies, moves or does not want to continue doing it. Then they wind up with a rep payee they do not like.
Some People Hate Having a Payee
And some people (most people) hate having a rep payee. They hate not being able to make their own financial decisions, and they sometimes feel confused or resentful about how their money is being spent.
When Does This Decision Get Made?
The decision about representative payees gets made while you are applying, or sometimes right after you get approved.
If you don’t want a representative payee, the best time to address this is while you are still applying and/or right after approval. If you wait until after the decision has been made, you will have a lot less options.
Who Gets a Representative Payee
Sometimes people with the following circumstances are assigned representative payees. But not always:
- Serious mental illness
- Developmental disabilities
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Alzheimers, Traumatic Brian Injury, or other disabling cognitive impairments
- Under age 18
- People who have been declared incompetent by a court
- People who want/request to have a payee
If your primary disability is physical, you probably do not have to worry about getting a rep payee, unless your condition is so severe that you are completely unable to manage finances or direct anyone to help you.
Special Circumstances: Turning 18
Many people get assigned a representative payee when they turn 18. Sometimes this is a good thing and other times it does not work out well in the long run.
Sometimes this happens because the person genuinely needs a representative payee and this is the best possible outcome. Other times this happens because a parent is trying to help their child by recommending they have a payee and offering to be the payee.
If you are a parent in the process of making this decision, you may wish to give it a lot of thought and consideration and talk it over with your child. Some parents decide that instead of becoming a payee, they will instead offer to help support and train their child to handle their own financial decision making, so the child will be able to have more choice and independence in their future.
It is an important decision. Only you know what is best for your family, and the right choice is different in every case.
Who Decides if I Need a Representative Payee
The decision can be made by any of these people, or by some combination:
- Your doctor – If your doctor writes something in your medical records about your ability to manage your money.
- Your doctor – If you ask your doctor to fill out a mental RFC form for you. Many RFC forms include a question about your ability to handle money.
- Your doctor – If you request that your doctor write a brief letter for you stating that you are able to manage your own finances, and you present this letter to Social Security.
- The Social Security doctor – If you meet with a Social Security psychiatrist or psychologist, they will write their opinion about this question. They may discuss it with you before making a decision.
- The judge – If you have a hearing with a judge, the judge may make a decision about representative payee status, and this may be written in your award letter. The judge may discuss this with you before making a decision.
- Social Security staff – After you are approved, you will be contacted for an interview to review financial questions. This person may ask you questions about your ability to handle finances and make a decision.
- You – If you request a representative payee.
- You – If you tell any of the people above that you cannot manage your finances responsibly.
Is the Decision Always Correct?
Nope. Many people report that representative payee status is applied unevenly. It may somewhat depend on which worker you happen to meet with the day of your payee interview. Some Social Security workers are more inclined to try to give out representative payee status, and other workers are less likely to do this.
We have heard from readers who were perfectly capable of handling their money, yet still got assigned rep payees. And we have heard from other readers who regularly took risks with their money (such as giving all their rent money away to charity), but never got assigned a payee.
What Questions Will I Be Asked?
It is possible that at some point a doctor or someone at Social Security may ask you some questions to see if you are capable of handling your money. Sample questions:
- Do you know what bills you have each month?
- How have you handled your money in the past?
- If you have money left over, what would you do with it?
- What are the most important bills to pay?
- Who pays my bills?
- Am I able to pay them by myself?
- Do I take medications? Do I ever forget to take them?
“Someone will handle my money? That sounds good!”
Some people prefer to have a representative payee and request to have one. If this is what you want, you are free to make this request anytime.
However, you also have another option: If you have a person who you trust to manage your finances, you do not have to do this through Social Security. You make your own arrangement for this person to help you. Here’s an example of someone who regretted getting representative payee status:
Lilac told Social Security that she needed a representative payee and requested her mom be her payee. This worked well for some years. Then Lilac’s mom passed away.
Lilac was older now and felt she could control her own money, but it was too late. She already had representative payee status and felt too afraid to risk her benefits by trying to undo it.
After Lilac’s mom died, Lilac didn’t have someone else she trusted to ask to be her payee, so Social Security assigned an agency to be Lilac’s representative payee. Lilac hated working with the agency. She felt she never had enough money and never fully understood what was happening to her money, plus the agency charged her a fee each month.
“I don’t want a rep payee!”
If you have no problems managing your money, and/or you are able to ask for help when you need it, you may prefer not to have a representative payee.
Here’s a few things you can do:
- Nothing – If you don’t have serious mental illness, severe cognitive impairments or drug and alcohol abuse, you don’t need to do anything. Social Security is unlikely to assign you a rep payee.
- Representative Payee Form – Here’s a form you can ask your doctor to fill out: SSA-787: Physician’s/Medical Officer’s Statement of Patient’s Capability to Manage Benefits
- RFC form – If you ask your doctor to fill out a Mental RFC form for you, the question about managing money may be included. Make your wishes known and explain to your doctor why you feel you are capable of managing your own finances. Your doctor probably has no idea that by writing one sentence on this form she may be greatly affecting the rest of your life!
- Social Security Doctor – If you are sent to a visit with a Social Security doctor, this topic may come up. Think ahead of time about what you wish to say.
- Hearing – If you have a hearing, the judge may ask you questions about your finances. You can think ahead of time about what you want to stay.
- After approval – You will probably meet or speak on the phone to review your finances with someone from Social Security. They may ask you rep payee questions.
If you are still applying or recently approved, you can ask your doc for a brief letter on this topic. See below.
Getting a Letter or Form
If your doctor has already filled out an RFC form and written that you can manage your own finances, you may not need anything additional. Just keep a copy of the RFC form to show Social Security when the topic comes up.
If you don’t already have something written about this, and you think rep payee status might be an issue for you, you can talk with your doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist and request a brief letter stating that you are competent and capable of managing your own finances. Or filling out this form for you: SSA-787
In the ideal world, the form or letter would also state if you continue to have severe, disabling symptoms and if your condition has not improved. If Social Security believes your condition has improved, this may trigger a medical review.
- While applying: You can submit this letter to whoever is handling your case.
- Right after you are approved: You will be contacted for a financial interview. The letter may say that you will need a representative payee. If it says this, bring the completed form with you, or ask the person doing the interview how you can send it to them.
This letter may or may not be successful, but at least you can try.
“I already have a Representative Payee. I wish I didn’t!”
If you have already been assigned a representative payee, you can:
- Appeal the decision within 60 days
- Request to be your own payee (anytime)
- Request to change rep payees to a different person or agency
Changing Payees: There is no risk in asking to change to a new representative payee. Your request may or may not be granted. They may consider who they feel is the most responsible person to be your payee.
Switching to an Agency: If you wish to change your payee to an agency, this will generally be approved. They can find an agency for you. They agency may charge you a small monthly fee.
Becoming Your Own Payee: Completely removing your representative payee is more complicated.
You can contact Social Security and request an appointment for changing your representative payee status. Bring a completed copy of SSA-787
Keep in mind: If Social Security feels that your condition may have improved, this can trigger a medical review. Please talk with your doctor and be sure the form accurately reflects your current condition. Or ask your doctor to attach a note or letter stating whether or not your condition has improved and if your symptoms continue to be severe and disabling.
When I applied for disability, I checked the boxes about having memory and concentration problems. However, I also made it clear that I can manage my own money. I wrote this in answers to questions on the forms.
I also specifically told my doctors that I can manage my finances, and for them to be careful how they answer those questions. I have an accountant and a financial advisor who are trustworthy and aware of my cognitive changes. I made sure my doctors knew that, so they would support me.
My son is also disabled, and when he applied I handled this a different way. He needs support to handle his check, so when I filled out these kind of forms for my son, I made sure to write in comments that he could not manage money and needed a representative payee. His doctors also had to answer a question about whether he could manage his money. I also talked about this with his doctor.
I revisit this topic with my son regularly. Once you have a rep payee, it is hard to get rid of that status. It’s better to ask someone you trust to help you with your finances than to get a specific person officially designated as your payee. The key is: do you have someone you can trust?
On a related note, I have recently notified Social Security in writing, to add my son’s Social Worker on my son’s account as an “authorized representative”, and to send copies of all correspondence to her as well as to my son and to me. I did this so that there is another person who can help navigate the (ridiculous) government systems on my son’s behalf. I felt that having another person officially watching would be a good idea. Plus, if something happens to me, Social Security would be aware of an alternate specific person who has been involved. She would be able to advocate for what my son would need for assistance at that point, including what to do about a rep payee.
Updated April 2019. Please comment below with stories, ideas, questions or suggestions. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please share it with others by pressing one of these magic little buttons: