Why should you care?
Because if you suspect or know your elder has a dementia, it is time to put Social Security Administration’s (SSA) representative payee documentation in place.
I have known for a while that social security does not recognize a General/Financial POA. They have their own document called a “payee representative.” The representative payee can be a person or an organization. It’s been on my mind since before the pandemic, but the hassle of bringing mom to her local social security office to put the paperwork in place had me hesitating.
Officially, the purpose of a representative payee (payee) “is to manage the benefit payments for our beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.” Great! Mom is blind and I handle all her finances, so this is just part of what I need to have in place as her financial caregiver.
Then the pandemic happened and all the Social Security Administration district offices closed. Our next focus was on getting mom moved into assisted living and becoming her representative payee went onto the back burner again. That is, until I received a letter from a medical provider. In asking the post office to forward her mail, the medical provider let me know I needed to update her address with social security because that is the only way Medicare will know of the change. OK, back to getting the representative payee paperwork in place.
I called the national number for Social Security which had been provided in the letter (very helpful by the way, so kudos to the medical provider). A lovely representative with national social security told me I did not need to bring mom into the district office. I could, in fact, go myself. Yes! I was not looking forward to bringing mom into our capital city with a long wait at the social security office. All I needed to do was bring in social security proof of ID, her address and phone number, the name and contact information for the doctor and oh, by the way, even though SSA does not recognize a POA it wouldn’t hurt to bring it. I just needed to call the district office to set up an appointment. Great!
I call our local SSA and after a surprisingly short wait, was speaking to a wonderful gentleman who quickly told me how wrong the person from the national social security hotline had been in their advice. The representative payee is strictly designed for someone who cannot manage or direct the management of his or her social security or SSI benefits. It doesn’t matter that mom is blind, she has all her faculties and that disqualifies me from becoming her representative payee.
So, how do I change mom’s address with the SSA? I must call them while I’m with her so she can talk to them. They have one question”: do you give us permission to speak with your daughter? With one yes, the phone gets handed back to me and I can update her address. SIGH. Imagine if I lived hours away by plane. How do you handle that? With a three-way phone call?
Verbal permission is the only way to make changes or update records with the SSA. So far, I’ve had to use this process to update mom’s social security payment when dad died, give them a new bank account for deposits and now an address change. It is certainly not the most difficult process we’ve had to go through, but it is a hassle. Now I need to align my schedule with hers and alot an hour or two to get through to the district office so I can change the address.
But let’s go back to why you should you care. The litmus test for needing a representative payee is pretty loose. The official language is “legally incompetent adults.” According to my SSA district representative, if your elder is diagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disease like Alzheimier’s or another dementia, you can be appointed their representative payee. That is the only way you can manage their social security or SSI benefits. Be prepared to bring documents to prove your identity, including your social security number. You will also need medical proof from their doctor that they are no longer capable of handling their affairs. The SSA will give preference to a family member as the appointed payee and will fast track the paperwork because they recognize the problem with having to wait until you have a medical opinion of mental incapacity.
A payee must keep records of:
■ The amount of Social Security or SSI benefits received
■ Expenses for food and housing
■ Expenses for clothing, medical, dental, personal items, recreational, and other miscellaneous expenses ■ Any savings as well as interest earned on those savings
I’m grateful I cannot have myself appointed mom’s payee for many reasons, including that the record keeping duties of this is a lot. But if the time comes, I will take it on.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract.” Available in both English and Spanish, this book explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems during caregiving. Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract or here for the Spanish version: Su Contrato de relación como cuidador de un ser querido.