If a loved one has named you as their POA (Power of Attorney), you now have written permission to help manage that loved one’s financial decisions during his or her lifetime.
It’s a powerful document. It puts complete trust and authority in you to handle the financial matters of the person who has named you as their agent.
Depending on how the document is constructed, as POA, you may have the authority to oversee transactions such as changing beneficiary designations, accessing a safe deposit box, dealing with the IRS and the State on tax matters, or creating, funding, and requesting distributions from trusts.
But….does being one’s power of attorney also allow you manage their Social Security benefits?
The short answer is no, and here is why.
The Treasury Department does not recognize power of attorney for negotiating federal payments, including Social Security or SSI checks.
The only way to legally manage someone else’s Social Security benefits is to be appointed as a representative payee by the Social Security Administration.
What is a representative payee?
A representative payee is a person (typically a family member or close friend) or entity (such as a nursing home, hospital, group home, or a social service agency) who is appointed by Social Security to manage benefits on behalf of someone who is unable to do themselves. And, they are almost always assigned for a minor child, disabled adults, or any adult who has been deemed legally incompetent.
A representative payee is responsible for receiving and managing the benefit payments—Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This includes:
- Taking care of payments for essential needs including food, shelter, household bills, and medical care. Funds can also be used to cover personal needs such as clothing, and even recreation.
- Depositing any leftover funds from benefit payments into an interest-bearing bank account of savings bonds, either of which must be fully owned by the beneficiary (though the representative payee can and should be listed as a financial agent). A representative payee cannot blend the Social Security payments with their own finances.
- Keeping records of all payments received and how those payments were spent and/or saved.
- Reporting—typically on an annual basis—any relevant changes to the Social Security Administration, including any life events that affect the beneficiary’s eligibility for payments or the logistics for delivering payments (e.g., moving, getting married, getting divorced, or dying), and also any changes that affect the representative payee’s ability to uphold their responsibilities in the role.
If you need to apply to become a representative payee for someone in your life, you will need to visit the nearest Social Security office, provide identity documents, and complete form SSA-11.
There may be some restrictions due to COVID, so it’s advisable to visit the Social Security Administration’s COVID-19 page for the most up-to-date information. You can also call your local Social Security office for additional help.
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