Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Professional Fiduciary?
A professional fiduciary is a person you can trust to care for you and/or your finances, or care for the wellbeing and/or finances of a loved one.
The professional fiduciary is trained and licensed for these three roles: conservator of person and/or estate, administrator/executor of a person’s will, or trustee of a person’s estate.
What is entailed in the roles of conservator, administrator, or trustee?
CONSERVATOR/GUARDIAN of a person and/or a person’s finances (estate).
A Conservator of the Person is either appointed by the court or hired privately to oversee an adult person’s care, in cases of incapacity (such as dementia). In this role, the conservator becomes that person’s advocate, surrogate decision-maker, and coordinator/monitor of services.
A Conservator of the Estate is appointed either by the court or hired privately to oversee an adult person’s finances. In this role, the conservator becomes that person’s financial coordinator through ensuring the person receives all income due, paying the bills, having the taxes done, managing money and investments—so that this person’s ongoing care needs are met. In this role, the professional fiduciary coordinates experts such as financial advisors, tax accountants and lawyers.
Usually, if the fiduciary is court appointed, the court would appoint the same fiduciary to oversee both Conservatorship of the Person and of the Estate. If a conservator is appointed by the court, the court oversees and supervises this work closely, requiring such things as regular audits of the finances and sending representatives to check periodically on the person at home.
A Professional Fiduciary can be hired privately for the care of person or finances, or both.
These roles can be set up on a limited basis. For example, the fiduciary might coordinate your mother’s care, but the family member retains legal roles of power of attorney, health care proxy and other legal roles.
Services available privately are:
Case Management (coordinating care)
Power of Attorney
A guardian is appointed to oversee the care of a person under 18.
ADMINISTRATOR of a person’s will upon death.
A professional fiduciary can be named in a will or appointed by the Probate Court to be the Administrator (aka executor, personal representative). Upon a person's death, the fiduciary would do an Appraisal and Inventory that is submitted to the probate referee for appraisal. Then the fiduciary would coordinate the care, financial obligations (such as last taxes), liquidation of the estate and disbursement of gifts to beneficiaries, under the Probate Court’s supervision.
TRUSTEE of a trust while a person is alive, after death, or on behalf of a loved one.
A professional fiduciary can be named successor trustee in a living trust, in the event of incapacity or death. Or perhaps a loved one needs a trust supervised and income dispersed on their behalf, then the fiduciary is a good choice for ongoing trustee.
Who sets up a professional fiduciary relationship?
A professional fiduciary can be appointed by the court, or hired privately.
If a professional fiduciary is hired privately, this can be arranged long-term or on a limited basis. For example, an adult daughter lives on the East Coast, and knows that her mother here in the Santa Barbara area is in need of more supervision for her care than can be provided from that distance. The professional fiduciary can coordinate the mother’s care with the long-distance daughter. Perhaps her mother needs to be moved from her home to a memory-care assisted living unit, but again, the daughter does not have the time to assess the best facility, and help her mother in all the logistics of the move. A professional fiduciary could be hired for just this phase of loved one’s care. The professional fiduciary would know the facilities in the area well, and could expedite this process for the family member.
What would keep a professional fiduciary from taking off with a person’s money?
In a court appointed Conservatorship of Estate, the court requires the conservator to secure a bond for the amount of the estate the conservator would have control over. If the professional fiduciary is negligent with these funds, or worse, steals these funds, the bond company pays the estate for the amount of money covered in the bond. Then the bond company pursues recouping their losses from the professional fiduciary’s personal assets.
My neighbor/friend/family member needs help. What do I do?
Anyone can petition the court on behalf of a vulnerable person. For example, you might notice that your neighbor is suffering dementia and is no longer able to handle her own care, house, or finances. You can contact Mark and meet to assess the situation, free of charge. He can work with you to find a lawyer to petition the court. This is especially needed in cases where an elderly person is on his own and declining in capacity, which makes him vulnerable to elder neglect, abuse, or financial exploitation.
Based on this initial hearing, the court might deem it necessary to assign an “emergency conservator” to coordinate care for your neighbor, providing the court with adequate time to investigate the situation to see if a full conservatorship is needed.