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How do Representative Payees Protect Seniors?

With Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments on the rise, many seniors are unable to manage their money, including Social Security benefits. To make sure these seniors receive and properly use their benefits for food, housing, and other essential needs, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can appoint a third party, known as a “representative payee.” Seniors, advocates, and caregivers should be aware of the representative payee program and its importance.

Choosing a Representative Payee
When seniors receiving social security benefits or their caretakers feel they cannot manage their money, they can ask the SSA to appoint a representative payee. The benefits are paid directly to the payee. SSA will first look to the beneficiary’s family and friends who are willing to serve as a payee. If no family or friends are available, SSA may appoint an organization to be the payee. The individual or organization seeking to become the payee must apply with the local SSA field office or online.

Duties of a Representative Payee
SSA encourages payees to take an active role in the beneficiary’s life. A representative payee must:
• Meet with the beneficiary on a regular basis.
• Use the money to pay for the beneficiary’s needs, including housing and utilities; food; medical and dental expenses; personal care items; and clothing.
• Save any unspent benefits to meet later needs.
• Keep accurate records of benefit payments and how they are spent and regularly report that information to SSA.
• Report any changes that may affect the payment of benefits.

Protection Against Misuse of Benefits
For seniors on fixed incomes, every penny counts. All payees must follow SSA rules. They must maintain records showing all money received and purchases made on beneficiaries’ behalf. If a payee misuses benefits, SSA can impose criminal and civil penalties. Suspected misuse should be reported to the local SSA office, or by calling 1-800-269-0271 (TTY 1-866-501-2101), or submitting a report online at

• For help when social security benefits are terminated or reduced because of an overpayment, recipients can apply to The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland by calling 1-888-817-3777.
• For more information about the SSA Representative Payee program see - “When People Need Help With Their Money” and also this fact sheet.
• Adults age 60 and over may also contact ProSeniors telephone hotline by calling 1-800-488-6070.

This article was written by Deborah Dallman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!

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