If you're not a lawyer (and even if you are), the responsibilities of these positions can seem daunting. Luckily, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – the only federal office dedicated to the financial health of Americans age 62 and over -- recently released four guides for people who have been given the responsibility of managing money or property for someone else. The guides, which are free, are collectively called “Managing Someone Else's Money.”
The Managing Someone Else's Money guides are designed to help non-lawyers. They walk you through your new responsibilities, teach you how to protect the person in your care from financial exploitation, and give you links to additional resources. For example, the guides tell you, the agent, what to do to avoid problems with family and friends who think you are doing a bad job. The guides also help you coordinate with other agents who may have been assigned to work with you and any outside professionals whose help you may need (such as lawyers, brokers, and financial planners).
The guides include help for agents under a power of attorney, court-appointed guardians of property and conservators, trustees under a revocable living trust, and representative payees and VA fiduciaries (a person who manages someone else's government benefit checks). All four types of agents are fiduciaries, which means they owe four special duties to the people for whom they are managing money or resources: the duty to act in the individual’s best interest, the duty to manage the individual’s money and property carefully, the duty to keep the individual’s money and property separate from their own, and the duty to keep good records. Every guide includes detailed information about these four duties.
If you have been assigned to be an agent for someone, that assignment should come with a document (power of attorney, trust document, court order, etc.) that will tell you what you can and cannot do. It is important to stay within the limits that document sets for you. These four guides, which were developed for the Bureau by the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, are not a substitute for legal counsel, but they can help keep you on the straight and narrow.
To download one or more of the guides, go to: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/managing-someone-elses-money/