Jewish World Review March 14, 2005 / 3 Adar II, 5765
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Can I recoup Dad's stolen SSI cash?
Q: Because my father lives on the other side of the country, he gave me
his power of attorney to handle his finances and health care. I am an
only child, and my mother died two years ago. At 86, Dad is in good
physical health, but he has memory loss and can't handle his own
finances. He doesn't drive, and he depends on others to help him get
around. His income is from Social Security and a small pension.
Because it was so difficult to obtain his bills and get them paid due to
the distance, six months ago, I engaged a firm that advertised expertise
in handling money and paying bills for seniors. As a condition of
hiring, my father and I made the head of the group Dad's representative
payee for his Social Security.
I travel quite a bit with my job, and when I finally got around to
reviewing Dad's bank records, I found his account to be overdrawn, some
of his recurring bills in collection for nonpayment, and a number of ATM
withdrawals. Dad never had an ATM card and wouldn't know how to use one.
When the "business" did not return my calls, I traveled cross-country to
close out the bank account. Is there anything I can do about the money
that has been stolen from my father? I have learned that more than 20
other people have had the same problem with this group.
A: Social Security does not accept powers of attorney, but uses the
"representative payee" system. The Social Security Protection Act of
2004 was signed into law to protect against these types of abuses by
representative payees that are becoming more frequent. In all, close to
8 million Social Security and SSI recipients have "representative
payees" that is, folks appointed by the Social Security
Administration to receive and manage benefits for beneficiaries. While
the majority of these fiduciaries are family members, a growing number
have been non-family members or organizational entities like the one you
hired, certified community-based nonprofit agencies, and others.
Under the 2004 law, the Social Security Administration can, among other
things, 1) Replace misused benefits under certain circumstances; 2)
Require private representative payees to be both bonded and licensed; 3)
Monitor certain representative payees; 4) Disqualify those convicted of
felonies, etc., as representative payees; and 5) Recover misused money
as overpayments to the representative payee by taking income tax refunds
and engaging in the collection process.
While family members and organizations who've misused Social Security
benefits when serving as representative payees have been prosecuted and
convicted, we think a little planning on your part could have avoided a
long legal process. Without being critical of your efforts, which we
know were intended with your father's best interests, we believe the
situation could have been handled better.
First, we see no reason why you would want anyone but yourself serving
as your father's "representative payee." If the Social Security benefits
were directly deposited into your father's account, why appoint anyone
else? Here, we think you were looking for trouble. Second, your father's
telephone bill and other utilities could have been paid electronically.
Third, you could have engaged paid nonmedical caregivers. For example,
Home Instead Senior Care (www.homeinstead.com) is a nationwide service
that can be accessed to do your father's shopping and take him where he
needs and wants to go. Fourth, you should have reviewed and audited his
account every month not every six months; and, if you did not have
the time, you could have hired an accountant local to your father to do
so. With bank accounts available online, you could and should have kept
up with the spending weekly.
That said, you should contact the Social Security Administration and ask
for their help in trying to recover your father's money. You should also
contact the local Better Business Bureau and police in your father's
locale. Financial abuse of seniors must come to an end.
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JAN L. WARNER received his A.B. and J.D. degrees from the University of South Carolina and earned a Master of Legal Letters (L.L.M.) in Taxation from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a frequent lecturer at legal education and public information programs throughout the United States. His articles have been published in national and state legal publications. Jan Collins began co-authoring Flying SoloŽ in 1989. She has more than 27 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. To comment or ask a question, please click here.
Step away from that lying bank
Step away from that lying bank