Family Caregivers Can Manage Social Security Benefits

By Lori Woehrle / Posted on 07 September 2008

If you are caring for an elderly or disabled relative who needs help managing their monthly Social Security or SSI benefits, you can apply to be representative payee. More than seven million people who get monthly benefits need help managing their money.

After a careful investigation, the Social Security Administration will appoint a relative, friend or other interested party to serve as the “representative payee.” This means that, if you agree to be a representative payee, the government will pay you the person’s benefits to use on his or her behalf.

In agreeing to serve as a representative payee, you are taking on an important responsibility (one that can make a positive difference in both the beneficiary’s life and your life).

With certain exceptions, a payee may not collect a fee for services provided to the beneficiary. Unless Social Security authorizes you to collect a fee for providing services, or you are the legal guardian who has been authorized by a court to charge a guardian fee, you may not collect a fee from the beneficiary.

Social Security will conduct a careful investigation to determine if you meet the requirements.

You must know what your relative’s needs are so you can decide how benefits can best be used for his or her personal care and well-being. First, you must make sure that food and shelter are provided.

After you have provided for the beneficiary’s basic needs, you may spend the money to improve the beneficiary’s daily living conditions or for better medical care. You may decide to use the beneficiary’s funds for major health-related expenses, if they are not covered by the beneficiary’s health insurance. Examples of these expenses are reconstructive dental care, a motorized wheelchair, rehabilitation expenses or insurance premiums.

You could use the money to arrange for the beneficiary to go to school or get special training.

You also could spend some of the money on the beneficiary’s recreational activities, such as movies, concerts or magazine subscriptions.

Special purchases

You may want to make some of the following special purchases for the beneficiary.

A home-You can use funds as a down payment, and you can use some of the money to make payments on a house owned by the beneficiary.
Home improvements-You can pay for renovations that make the beneficiary’s home safer and more accessible; for example, installing a wheelchair ramp or widening doorways to accommodate a wheelchair.
Furniture-You can buy furniture for the beneficiary’s personal use, as well as items that may be shared with other members of the household, such as a television.
A car-You can use funds as a down payment, and you can use some of the money to make monthly car payments as long as the car is used for and owned by the beneficiary.

For more information about the representative payee program, read A Guide For Representative Payees (Publication No. 05-10076), from the Social Security Administration.

- Lori Woehrle


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