If you're like most Americans, Social Security benefits will be one of your primary sources of retirement income.

Protecting these benefits and using them wisely is essential, and the Social Security Administration has introduced a new online tool to make sure that happens -- even if something happens to you. Here's what it is, and how it works. 

Older woman sitting on couch looking at check.

Image source: Getty Images.

You can now designate a representative payee online

Social Security's new tool allows those who are applying for Social Security benefits, and those who are receiving them, to advance designate a representative payee. In fact, you have the opportunity to choose up to three individuals who could serve in this role. 

A representative payee is someone who receives and manages your Social Security payments on your behalf if you become unable to manage them yourself. A representative payee could be an individual or an organization. If you haven't chosen someone, one will need to be appointed for you if you become unable to act on your own accord in handling your money from Social Security. 

Both capable adults and emancipated minors are now allowed to use Social Security's new tool to advance designate representative payees. And for most people, it makes sense to select someone they trust to act in this important role in case the worst happens and they need help managing their money. Social Security's new tool now makes that quick and easy. To do it, you can visit your my Social Security Account to complete your designation online, can visit your local Social Security office, or can make a request via phone or mail.

When you advance designate a representative payee, that person doesn't get control over your benefits immediately. Designating an advanced payee doesn't confer power of attorney, so your chosen person doesn't have the authority to do anything right away. And you have the option to make changes over time to your advance designation if you want or need to switch your payee. You can also withdraw the advanced designation. And once you've chosen someone and notified Social Security, the agency will send you a notice every year listing the person or people you've selected so you don't forget to make changes if doing so becomes desirable. 

That all means that you'll retain flexibility over time, but you'll still be protected in case of your future incapacity since Social Security will know who you want to entrust with your hard-earned benefits. 

Act today to designate your representative payee

Thinking about becoming incapacitated and unable to manage your money isn't fun, but it's necessary. You never know what could happen to you, especially as you age.

If you're not able to manage your money effectively on your own, the next best thing is to make sure you've personally chosen the person who will handle it on your behalf. Social Security has made it much easier to do that -- so if you're receiving benefits already, take action today to do that before it's too late.