Supported decision-making can be used to help make decisions about all kinds of things, including money and finances if needed. Supporters can play a valuable role in assisting with decision-making around finances. There are a number of effective financial decision-making toolkits that people using SDM can review to help think about choices about money.

Conflicts of Interest

More than most other areas of decision-making, there is a potential for conflicts of interest when using SDM for financial decision-making. For this reason, supporters should take proactive steps to be sure there is no real, perceived, or potential conflict of interest. (Potential conflict of interest means that even when the person does not have an actual conflict of interest, there is a possibility of there being one in the future.)

A conflict of interest is when a supporter has a motivation other than to provide support to the decision-maker to make his or her own decisions.

Examples of a conflict of interest include:

  • When the supporter is a paid staff person, such as a shared living provider, that supporter should not assist with decisions that the individual is making about whether to try independent living. If the individual decides to try independent living the shared living provider would no longer be paid to provide shared living. Even if the shared living provider supports trying independent living, he or she still has a stake in the decision. A different supporter should assist with this decision-making process.
  • If the supporter is a family member who would receive an inheritance from the individual with the disability’s will, that supporter should not assist with decisions about changing the individual’s will. Even if the family member would be getting less money in a new will, there is still a potential conflict of interest. The supporter assisting with the decision should not be someone who is in the will.

The best practice is to plan ahead to address these conflicts before they happen. By planning in advance, the individual can have a different supporter assist him or her with decisions where another supporter might have a conflict of interest.

  1. Identify actual or potential conflict of interest. Ask: does the supporter have a financial interest that is connected to the individual with the disability? For example, is the supporter paid staff?
  2. Identify what types of decisions the supporter should not help with. If it makes sense to do so, reflect this in the supported decision-making agreement. For example, if a paid staff person will not be assisting with any financial decisions or any decisions about changing service providers, this could be included in the agreement. If a particular family member will not be involved in financial decisions at all, state this in the agreement.
  3. Determine which supporters will be helping with financial decisions and identify any authorizations they will need.

Decision-Tools to Assist with Financial Decision-Making

1. Representative Payee

Some people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or and Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits have a representative payee appointed by the Social Security Administration. A representative payee (often called a “rep payee”) is appointed if the Social Security Administration believes the individual receiving the benefits cannot manage his or her own money without help. When someone has a representative payee, his or her SSI/SSDI payments go directly to the representative payee. The representative payee is then responsible for paying the individual’s bills, saving money, etc. The representative payee must provide information to the Social Security Administration about how the individual’s money has been spent. A representative payee can be either an individual or an organization.

Someone who has a representative payee can still use SDM, but there are a few things to consider.

  • Who is your representative payee? If it is a person (not an organization), do you want this person to be a supporter? Why or why not? How would having your representative payee as a supporter make it either easier or harder to make financial decisions?
  • If your representative payee is NOT going to be a supporter, you should plan with your supporters how you plan to make financial decisions. Do you plan on talking with a particular supporter about a financial decision you are making? How will you communicate with your representative payee? Do you need assistance communicating with your representative payee? What kind of assistance?
  • If you have had conflicts with your representative payee in the past, you should discuss these with your supporters, particularly any supporters who will be helping you make financial decisions. What were the conflicts? Was there any kind of pattern to the conflicts? (for example, your representative payee does not provide you an accounting when you ask for it? will not approve certain expenses? etc). How do you want to resolve these conflicts in the future? Do you think you should get a different representative payee? Who might be able to serve as your representative payee? Would you want that person or organization as your payee?
  • If you have had a representative payee before but no longer think you need one, you can petition the Social Security Administration to get rid of your representative payee and handle your money yourself. See here for more information about how to remove or change your representative payee.

Note that every state Protection and Advocacy Agency has the authority to monitor and investigate representative payees. If you have a concern about your representative payee, you can contact your state’s Protection and Advocacy Agency.

2. Power of Attorney

Appointing someone as power of attorney means they have the ability to make financial and other business decisions on your behalf. For people using SDM who have assets (own a home, have a substantial amount of money in the bank, etc.), we recommend they consider signing a document for a “springing” power of attorney. A “springing” power of attorney means that power of attorney only goes into effect IF a doctor determines the individual can no longer make decisions due to his or her disability. So, for example, if the person got into a car accident and was having trouble remembering things, the power of attorney could go into effect. Otherwise, the person with the disability remains able to make his or her own financial and business decisions. With springing power of attorney, no one is your power of attorney unless something happens and you become unable to make your own decisions. It is best to consult with a lawyer if you think you will need a springing power of attorney.

If you do NOT have a lot of assets, you do not need to worry about setting up a power of attorney when you sign your SDM agreement.