The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has published four guides to help financial caregivers, particularly those who handle the finances of older Americans, carry out their duties and responsibilities in managing someone else’s money.
“In order to protect our seniors, we must educate the caregiver generation,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Today, the Consumer Bureau is publishing a series of guides called ‘Managing Someone Else’s Money.’ The guides are designed to help people meet the responsibility of managing money for a loved one.”
Millions of Americans are acting as fiduciaries, meaning they manage money or property for someone else. Many older Americans experience declining capacity to handle finances, which can make them vulnerable. Even mild cognitive impairment can significantly impact an older adult’s ability to handle finances and to detect fraud or a scam. About 22 million people age 60 or older have named someone in a power of attorney to make financial decisions for them—and millions of others have court-appointed guardians or other fiduciaries. In addition to older adults, many younger adults with disabilities may also lack capacity to handle their own finances. The fiduciaries that help them are a critical source of support, but often have no training.
The CFPB released guides that explain the four main responsibilities of a fiduciary:
►Act in the person’s best interest: The first duty is to act in the person’s best interest, which means, for example, that the fiduciary should not loan or give the person’s money to themselves or others. The fiduciary should avoid conflicts of interest, and the guides provide examples of actions that may pose conflicts.
►Manage money and property carefully: The second responsibility is to manage the money and property carefully—such as by paying bills on time, protecting unspent funds, investing carefully, and having a list of all monies, properties, and debts.
►Keep money and property separate from own: The third responsibility is to keep the money and property separate from the fiduciary’s own. That means avoiding joint accounts and paying the person’s expenses from their own funds, not from the fiduciary’s funds.
►Maintain good records: Lastly, the fiduciary should maintain good records. The fiduciary should keep a detailed list of the money received or spent on the person’s behalf, avoid paying in cash in order to have a record of purchases, and keep all receipts.
Each guide contains information on the fiduciary’s responsibilities but the Bureau is publishing four guides in order to tailor them to the needs of people in four different fiduciary capacities. One guide is for people who have been named in a power of attorney to make decisions about money and property for someone else. Another is for those who have been appointed by a court to be guardians or conservators of property, giving them the duty and the power to make decisions on someone’s behalf.
The third guide is for those who have been named as trustees under revocable living trusts. In these cases, ownership of some or all money and property has been transferred to a trust and, as a result, the person named as a trustee has the power to make decisions about what is in the trust. The fourth guide is for those who have been appointed by a government agency to manage income benefits, such as Social Security or veteran’s assistance, for someone.
All of the guides also contain tips on how to spot financial exploitation and avoid scams. Older consumers can be attractive targets for scams and financial exploitation because they often have higher household wealth in the form of retirement savings, accumulated home equity, or other assets. Common signs that someone is being exploited financially include atypical frequent ATM usage, multiple attempts to wire large amounts of money, and spending money on unusual items.
Additionally, the guides include a list of agencies to contact to report fraud or a scam, as well as contact information for other agencies and organizations that can help financial caregivers with their duties. The Bureau contracted and worked closely with the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging to prepare the guides.