What do I do if I see (or suspect) an elderly person being abused—financially or in any other way?

The short answer: call Adult Protective Services (APS) in your county. (In Santa Clara County the phone number is 408-975-4900.) You can call APS and use them as a consultant or sounding board. Describe the situation to them, ask for their advice. You can call them without being required to file a report. I give educational presentation on combating elder abuse: the different kinds of abuse, how to identify abuse, how to prevent or stop abuse, how to deal effectively with abuse. Please contact me to arrange a presentation to your group. There is no charge for these presentations.

I’d like my senior friends to know what you do. Would you talk to my friends or group about your profession?

As of early 2014, there are about 770 licensed private professional fiduciaries in the State of California. No wonder our profession is virtually unheard of! Yes, I would be delighted to talk with your friends or group about this profession. Educating the public is part of what I do. There is no charge for such presentations. It can be formal, with a PowerPoint slide show, or simply an informal conversation.

How can I become a professional fiduciary, or learn more about this profession?

A great place to start is by visiting the website for the Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC). Also visit the websites for the professional fiduciary programs offered at CSU Fullerton and at UC Riverside.

If I hire you to provide bill payment services, who signs the checks?

For strictly bill-payment services, the client signs the checks. In other situations the client grants me power of attorney to sign checks, the court appoints me as conservator with authority to sign checks, or the office of trustee includes authority to sign checks.

How can I hire you, in good conscience, when caring for my aging parents is my duty as their child?

Family duty and responsibility is a vital consideration when our parents get older and need help. Deciding what to do yourself, and what to “hire out” is a personal decision. Some things to ask yourself are:

  1. Do I have the knowledge and skills to provide the personal and/or financial care my parents need?
  2. Do I live close enough to be able to fulfill those needs?
  3. What impact, positive or negative, will being a caregiver have on me, as well as on my own spouse and children?

When I was a teenager, my father decided to expand the size of our home. He was a skilled handyman, but had never undertaken a project of this size before. He did three things that left a lasting impression on me:

  1. He hired his buddy, a retired general contractor, as a consultant. The friend never did a lick of “real” work on the expansion, but gave Dad counsel and advice.
  2. He did everything he knew how to do, and did some things that were new to him (after reading books and getting counsel from his consultant friend).
  3. He hired out the stucco work and the taping and texturing of the sheetrock. His reason for doing this was simple: this was likely going to be the one and only time in his life he ever did stucco and sheetrock finishing work. Sure, he could learn to do it, and likely do a passable job. However, after putting all that work into the expansion, did he really want his learning curve on display for every person who drove down the street or walked through the house? No. So he opted to out-source that finish work. He still considered the project “his,” even though he enlisted outside resources.

In the same way, it is the right move to hire a private professional fiduciary to do work you don’t know how to do, don’t have the time to do, or can’t do well enough.

How do I know you won’t run off with my money and everything I own?

Here are some thoughts about why fiduciaries, including me, can be trusted (or ought to be trustworthy):

  1. I am licensed by the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau. You can verify my license here. Being licensed means I have passed a criminal background check, have good credit, and have passed the state licensing exam.
  2. I can be bonded for each client and case I serve, even if there is no legal requirement to do so. For a modest annual fee (paid for by the trust or estate being served), a bond can be obtained to protect the client’s assets. The bond company provides the surety that if I run off with the money, they will make good on it. The bond protects the client assets, not the fiduciary. If a bond company pays out on a bond, they come after my personal assets. The bond is not insurance.
  3. I carry Errors and Omissions insurance and Professional Liability insurance. Both kinds of insurance protect the client and protect me, particularly if I make an honest mistake and it hurts my client.
  4. I am not exempt from the law. If I run off with the goods, the client has legal recourse. I can be arrested, tried, and imprisoned for wrong doing. In fact, because I am a professional, I am held to a higher standard by the courts for my actions.
  5. The law and the PFAC Code of Ethics require that the only compensation I can receive or accept are my professional fees. I cannot be named the beneficiary in a client’s will or trust. My family members and I cannot benefit from any estate transactions. I do accept hugs.

How do I find a professional fiduciary?

Attorneys specializing in trusts, estate planning, and conservatorships are often acquainted with private professional fiduciaries, and may be willing to refer you to them. Another resource is from the website for the Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC). Use the tab “Search for a Fiduciary” to search for professionals meeting your needs.

Who pays you?

The client pays my fees. In the case of matters involving a trust, the trust pays the fees. In estate administration, the estate pays the fees. In conservatorships, the fees are paid from the assets of the conservatorship, but only with court approval to do so.

How do you charge?

Hoggan Fiduciary Services charges by the hour for services actually performed for the client. Billing is in one-tenth hour increments. Some fiduciaries have somewhat different billing practices, particularly with regard to the management of high-value trusts. Sometimes trusts are managed at a percentage of the assets under management by the fiduciary. I currently charge a flat, per-hour rate for all services performed.

What services do you and other professional fiduciaries offer?

(See the Services Offered page):

  • Professional trust administration,
  • Conservators of the estate and/or person,
  • Estate administration following a death,
  • Bill payment services,
  • Representative payee services,
  • Special Needs Trust administration,
  • Acting as Agent for Health Care,
  • Court accounting services,
  • Power of Attorney, and
  • Family Consultant.

Who needs a fiduciary?

Fiduciaries can be of great assistance to a wide range of people. Certainly the elderly often need our help. Fiduciaries can also be advocates for people with disabilities, those who can no longer take care of themselves (regardless of age), those with memory loss or dementia, widowed individuals, people with mental illness or other challenges, the elderly who have no others to assist, and those who might otherwise become victims of elder abuse or neglect. Families who would like to delegate the administration of a trust or estate administration to a professional also appreciate our services.

What is a fiduciary?

The word “fiduciary” means “bound to act in the best interest of another.” The word is often associated with banks and attorneys. We think of those professions as having an obligation to act in the best interest of their clients, a fiduciary obligation to their clients. A private professional fiduciary is someone who acts in the best interest of his or her client, and often in matters well beyond finances. A private professional fiduciary is given legal authority, by the court or by the client, to act in many areas. These areas vary from client to client, but may include finances, health care decisions, living arrangements, selection of care providers, oversight and assistance with all household maintenance and personal affairs. A private professional fiduciary doesn’t do everything himself, but arranges for everything to get done—kind of like a coach or a choir director.