The federal government imposes additional barriers to fiduciaries and some of its agencies, including the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Veterans Administration (VA) and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations (OPMRO), refuse to honor Durable Powers of Attorney that are valid under state law. So how do you assist your loved one in handling administrative tasks with these agencies? It depends on the kind of help needed by your loved one.
You can apply to SSA to be your loved one’s Representative Payee to receive Social Security or SSI benefits and manage this money for your loved one’s benefit, keeping good records you must make available upon SSA’s request. Here is a link to FAQs for Representative Payees on the SSA website. You will need to plan on visiting your local SSA office before being approved as a Representative Payee.
An alternative is to have your loved one appoint you as an Appointed Representative. This role is applicable for an attorney or other representative to represent your loved one while claims or other rights are being pursued. Here is a link to SSA’s website page for Appointed Representatives.
Sometimes simply having online access to an account established by or for your loved one at www.ssa.gov will provide you with convenient financial planning and benefit management tools you need to conduct your loved ones’ business. SSA calls this “mySocial Security.” You can verify earnings, get estimates of future benefits, get a benefit verification letter, check benefit and payment information, change an address or direct deposit information and get a replacement Medicare card or SSA-1099 form for tax season. You can create an account here.
In dealing with the VA or the OPMRO, online access to their websites is a good place to start. You can educate yourself, locate forms and apply online for some benefits or get contact information for help. The VA website is www.va.gov. There you will find information on Health Care, Benefits and Burials & Memorials. Here is a link to the VA’s Inquiry Routing & Information Systems (IRIS) that will help you narrow your search for information.
The OPMRO website is: https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/. Here is the link for Retirement FAQs: https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/retirement-faqs/.
If your loved one has lost capacity and cannot make changes to benefits like insurance with these agencies, you may not be able to make the changes under the Durable Power of Attorney or a Separate Property Agreement. While we cannot counsel on financial products like insurance policies because each is governed by its own rules, we can help you determine how a particular asset will affect your loved one’s estate plan or application for public benefits like Medicaid. For instance, a policy might have to be liquidated or the cash value emptied via a loan (if the policy permits this option) so that this is not an available resource that would prevent qualification. We can also assist with proper account titling and beneficiary designation to protect your loved one and beneficiaries.
If you have questions about helping your loved one manage government benefits and work with entities who will not recognize your Attorney-in-Fact powers, please contact us at (509) 468-0551.