Q: My mother, age 82, has Alzheimer’s disease and can no longer manage her financial matters. I am the designated Agent under my mother’s Durable Financial Power of Attorney, but Social Security Administration will not recognize my authority as her Agent. How can I manage her Social Security benefits?

A: The Treasury Department does not recognize power of attorney for negotiating federal payments, including Social Security checks. SSA has its own protocol to appoint a “Representative Payee” to manage social security payments for recipients who are determined incapable of managing their own payments, known as the Representative Payment Program. This means, even though you have power of attorney for your mother, you must still apply to serve as her Representative Payee. 

Generally, SSA looks for suitable family or friends to serve as representative payees. When friends or family members are not able to serve as payees, SSA looks for qualified organizations. All payees are responsible for keeping records of how the payments are spent or saved and making all records available for review if requested by SSA. Certain Representative Payees must also complete the annual Representative Payee Report. 

If you are concerned that someone you know is incapable of managing or directing the management of his or her benefits, you can call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to request an appointment to discuss your concerns. To apply to be a Representative Payee for someone, you will need to contact the Social Security office nearest you to schedule an appointment.  For more details check out www.ssa.gov/payee

SIDE NOTE: Advance Designation of Representative Payee 

Social Security applicants or recipients can now designate in advance up to three individuals who could serve as Representative Payee for them if the need later arises. SSA will give priority to these individuals in appointing your Representative Payee. Advance designation is not an appointment of a representative payee, nor is it a power of attorney. It is optional, and you can update or withdraw your advance designation at any time. If you choose to participate, SSA will send you a notice each year listing your advance designees for your review.

You can submit your advance designation request when you apply for social security benefits or after you are already receiving benefits. You may do so by direct electronic submission through your my Social Security account, by telephone, in person, or in writing by mailing Form SSA-4547- Advance Designation of Representative Payee.