How Long Does It Take to Change Your SSI Payee?

Learn how to change an SSI payee to ensure better financial management and safeguard the well-being of beneficiaries.
Published on
May 1, 2024
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Those who receive SSI may find the need to change their representative payee for reasons driven by a desire for more effective financial management, changes in the current payee's ability to serve, or personal conflicts that impact the beneficiary's well-being. 

Ahead, we explore the steps involved in changing an SSI payee. 

What is a beneficiary?

A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiary is an individual who benefits from the program. When the beneficiary cannot manage these benefits themselves, the Social Security Administration may designate a representative payee to do so.

Children and legally incompetent adults typically require a representative payee to ensure their SSI benefits are used appropriately—for expenses like housing, food, medical care, and other necessities. The payee is responsible for budgeting and handling the beneficiary's finances in a manner that prioritizes their current and future needs.

Over time, the circumstances of the beneficiary or the payee might change, necessitating a change in the representative payee. Common reasons include changes in the current payee's health or capabilities, alterations in the beneficiary's living situation, or issues regarding managing the funds, such as misuse. 

Family caregivers often assume the role of payee. Still, transferring this responsibility to another family member or a different organization better suited to manage the beneficiary's finances might become necessary. This change aims to ensure continued good stewardship of the benefits and support the beneficiary's best interests.

What is a representative payee?

A Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payee, formally known as a representative payee, is a person or organization appointed by the Social Security Administration to manage the SSI benefits of someone who cannot handle their financial affairs due to age, a disability, or other reasons that affect their capability to manage money. The payee is responsible for using the SSI benefits to pay for the current and foreseeable needs of the beneficiary and to save any remaining funds for future needs responsibly.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) typically recommends that a close relative or friend who understands the beneficiary's needs and financial matters take on this role. However, when family or friends are not available or suitable, a qualified organization may serve as the payee. 

The SSA sets forth specific criteria for eligibility as a payee. For instance, individuals convicted of offenses involving Social Security benefits or those already receiving SSI benefits through a representative payee are generally ineligible to serve.


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Understanding Power of Attorney vs. representative payee

Having a Power of Attorney (POA) allows a person (the agent) to make decisions on behalf of another (the principal), including financial, legal, and health-related decisions. However, when managing federal benefits like Social Security or SSI, having a POA does not automatically authorize the agent to handle these funds because the U.S. Treasury Department, which oversees the distribution of these benefits, does not recognize POAs or legal guardians to manage federal benefits.

Family caregivers already acting as a Power of Attorney and wishing to manage their loved one's SSI or Social Security benefits must apply separately to become a representative payee. The SSA requires this additional step to ensure that the individual handling the benefits is specifically approved to manage and allocate these funds in a manner that meets the SSA's criteria and safeguards the beneficiary's best interests.

This distinction ensures that the benefits are directly managed by someone vetted and approved by the SSA, providing an additional layer of protection and oversight to the management of these funds. As a result, even if an individual has broad powers under a POA arrangement, they still need to undergo the specific process of becoming a Representative Payee to manage federal benefit payments legally.

Applying to become a representative payee

To apply to be a representative payee, contact the local Social Security office to request the SSA-11 (Request to be Selected as Payee) form. This application process typically requires the applicant to appear in person, bringing necessary identification such as a driver's license or other government-issued ID and their Social Security number.

If representing an organization, it's important also to provide its employer identification number (EIN). This in-person application helps ensure that the potential payee understands the responsibilities involved and allows SSA staff to assess the suitability of the applicant directly.

How long does it take to change your SSI payee?

There's no exact answer to how long it will take to change your loved one's SSI payee. It can depend on the workload of the local Social Security office and the specifics of the case. 

Generally, it can take a few weeks to several months. Once the SSA receives the completed application and all necessary documentation, it must review the case, conduct any necessary interviews, and decide based on the beneficiary's best interests.

In urgent situations, such as when the current payee is not acting in the beneficiary's best interest or when there is a risk of misuse of funds, the SSA may expedite the process. Applicants should stay in close contact with their local office and provide any additional information or documentation promptly to help speed up the process.


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Rights and responsibilities

Rights and responsibilities of the beneficiary

Beneficiaries have the right to be fully informed about how their benefits are being used, and they have the right to request a change of payee whenever they believe it is necessary, whether due to dissatisfaction with current management, a change in their circumstances, or a desire for a different family member or organization to manage their benefits. 

Rights and responsibilities of the payee

The main duty of the payee is to use the benefits solely for the care and welfare of the beneficiary. Beyond spending responsibilities, the payee is also responsible for keeping accurate and detailed records of how every benefit dollar is spent or saved and regularly reporting this to the SSA.

Can a payee collect a fee for their service?

Only qualified organizations authorized by the SSA can charge a fee for their services as representative payees. These organizations typically include state or local government agencies, social service agencies, and community-based nonprofits that have applied to and been approved by the SSA to charge a fee.

Individual payees, such as family members or friends, generally cannot charge a fee for their services. They are expected to perform these duties voluntarily out of concern for the welfare of the beneficiary.

Note: SSI recipients are automatically eligible for Medicaid in most states. If a person qualifies for Medicaid automatically through SSI, they may also be eligible for a Medicaid waiver that enables their caregiver to receive compensation.

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What to do if a payee is misusing their role

If you suspect that a representative payee is misusing their role for someone beginning to lose decision-making capabilities, it's important to act quickly. Start by documenting any evidence of financial mismanagement or neglect, and report these concerns to the SSA by calling their toll-free number or visiting a local office. 

You can request an official review of the current payee and apply to become the new payee by completing the necessary forms and providing a medical statement from a healthcare professional about the beneficiary's condition. Involving a lawyer specializing in elder law or disability rights can also be beneficial in navigating this process and ensuring the beneficiary's rights are fully protected.

Changing an SSI payee can be an effort, but you can handle it. Make this process a breeze by working with your loved one, gathering the right documents, and keeping the lines of communication open with Social Security. Be the advocate your loved one needs today.

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