If I File For Disability And Want An Attorney To Represent Me, Does Social Security Cover My Legal Fees?

In a manner of speaking, Social Security does cover legal fees for you if you want a disability attorney. Social Security has set forth guidelines that limit how much and when an attorney is entitled to receive legal fees for representing Social Security Disability applicants. Social Security rules stipulate that an attorney or a non-attorney disability representative can collect a portion of a disability beneficiary's back payment of benefits.

Currently, an attorney or non-attorney disability representative can collect twenty five percent of a beneficiary's disability back payment up to the $6000.00 maximum fee amount. They are allowed to collect twenty five percent of any dependent's (your spouse or child) back payment to reach the maximum fee amount. If you do not have a disability back payment, your attorney is not entitled to collect a representation fee.

Having said that, you may be responsible for other payment obligations to your disability attorney. When you obtain the services of an attorney or non-attorney representative, you usually sign a fee agreement. Social Security allows attorneys and non-attorney representatives to charge incidental expenses for such things as copying, travel, phone calls, medical evidence, or any other agreed upon expense.

Some attorneys charge these expenses only if they win your disability claim, others charge these expenses whether they win your disability case or lose your disability claim, and still others do not charge incidental expenses at all.

If your disability representative charges incidental expenses, they are included in the fee agreement you signed. Fee agreements are legally binding contracts; therefore it is very important to read your fee agreement thoroughly before signing.

Currently, Social Security withholds the attorney fee (just the representation fee not incidental expenses) for attorneys and many non-attorney representatives prior to paying your disability back payment. However, many non-attorney representatives and some attorneys do not have fee withholding. If your representative does not have fee withholding, you are still obligated to pay their fee out of your disability back payment.

Remember, if you signed a fee agreement that obligated you to pay incidental expenses, you are obligated to pay those expenses to your disability representative as well. An attorney or non-attorney representative can demand payment for incidental expenses even if there is no representation fee.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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