This question is frequently asked by people who contact the Senior Connection Program. It may come from a frail senior overwhelmed by the constant challenge of determining whether an envelope is a bill, an important notice or a cleverly disguised advertisement. It also comes from family members concerned about an elderly relative who has stopped paying bills or whose money seems to be disappearing. The callers can see the problem, but are left asking “Where can we find help?”
Unfortunately, there are not “one size fits all” answers. The right solution will depend on the person’s condition, personal preferences, their support network and access to financial resources.
The following list of terms can be helpful for people in the process of looking for help.
Daily money management-
Daily money management is the service of ensuring timely payment of bills, maintaining a budget and protecting a senior from fraud and financial abuse.
Who can help with this?
Non professional assistance- Trusted family members and friends often take on this role. Though it is not required by law, formalizing the role with a written agreement that outlines tasks and responsibilities is helpful for everyone involved. Power of attorneys and living trusts are example of these types of agreements (see more below).
Looking for information to help a non professional financial caregiver:
Professional bookkeeper- A bookkeeper keeps records of financial transactions, prepares necessary payments, and can provide budget reports. This service can be an ideal solution for a person who is capable of understanding and monitoring their financial situation, but may have trouble with the details. This service may be offered by a large accounting firm or a small private practice. In California, a bookkeeper does not require a special license to have a private practice.
Professional Fiduciary Services- These services are provided by a licensed professional for people in a conservatorship or under a durable power of attorney for health care or finances. They manage matters for individuals including daily care, housing and medical needs, and also offer financial management services ranging from basic bill paying to estate and investment management. In California, professional fiduciary services can only be provided by a licensed professional. (Family members and people providing services for less than 2 persons are exempt). The following are common credentials considered appropriate for operating a professional fiduciary service:
- Licensed Professional Fiduciary
- Bar License (Lawyer)
- Certified Public Accountant
- See More
Representative Payee– A representative payee is a person designated by the Social Security Department to receive and manage Social Security benefits for a person incapable of managing the benefit on their own. More information on representative payees. Social Security does not honor power of attorney documents.
It is appropriate to ask anyone (even family or friends) who has the responsibility of managing finances to complete a background check. There are a number of tools to help consumers, preform background checks:
This service provides advice to people about managing their investments and plans for retirement. Often they advise on the purchase of investments including securities and other properties.
Who can help with this?
Professional financial planners/ advisers–
The professional helps you to:
1. Clarify your present situation through collecting and assessing all relevant financial data such as all assets, liabilities, insurance coverage, wills, etc.
2. Identify both personal and financial goals and objectives.
3. Identify financial problems which create obstacles to you reaching your goals and objectives.
4. Provide a written plan and course of action.
5. Implement or coordinate the implementation of the strategy you decide is best to reach your goals.
The professional may coordinate the implementation of your plan with other professional advisers.
6. Periodically review your plan to assure you that it is making progress toward the attainment of your goals.
Unfortunately there are too many designations to list, and no objective criteria to evaluate different types of financial advisers. The following resources can help you to make sense of the different credentials for financial professional.
From the Financial Industry Regulatory Association (FINRA)- Certification comparison tool to help figure out what the letter on the end of an advisers title mean
From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)- A report on Senior Designations
The following links are resources to help consumers make choices about financial planning.
From the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Investment Adviser Public Disclosure
Important Legal Terms for Financial Management
The following terms relate to legal roles that are part of a discussion about managing someone else’s money.
Power of Attorney– This is a document that grants authority of one person to another person (called the attorney in fact or agent under power of attorney) to make decisions and execute financial transactions. The attorney in fact has a legal duty to act under the direction of or in best interest of the granting person. Durable Power of Attorneys are documents that state that the agent retains the authority granted in the document in the event that the granting individual becomes incapacitated. See information about durable power of attorney for health care and advanced health care directives.
Trustee- A trustee is a person or entity granted authority by a trust to manage assets. Successor Trustee– A successor trustee is a person designated to assume the role of trustee if and when the primacy trustee is unable or unwilling to perform the role.
Conservatorship– A conservatorship is established when a probate court determines that a person does not have the capacity for decision making. In a conservatorship the court appoints a conservator to act as the guardian for the incapacitated persons estate (property) and/or person (the incapacitated persons health and physical welfare).
Who can help me find the resources that are right for me?
Senior Connection can help with information and referrals for people facing decisions related to managing finances as well as other matters faced by senior citizens, their loved ones and caregivers.