Imagine that you are conservator (of the estate) for a person who needs protection. Or, perhaps you are trustee of a trust for someone who has difficulty handling money. How do you handle regular living expenses?
You might think that your obligation is to be as protective as possible. In that case, you would never make cash directly available to the person whose funds you are handling. You would also not let them handle a checking account, a debit or credit card., Even prepaid or gift cards would be problematic.
As we explain in this podcast episode, that’s not the right way to think about your obligations as fiduciary. Whether you are a trustee, conservator, or agent under a power of attorney, your focus should be on the individual. You should be thinking about how to accomplish the goals of the relationship, maximize the dignity and autonomy of the person you are dealing with, and improve the quality of their life.
As we outline, you might encourage the individual to take responsibility for some of their own living expenses. It might be prudent — or even necessary — to monitor their expenditures, but that does not mean you can’t give them some leeway.
We talk about prepaid debit cards (and especially a particular type that we often use: the True Link card). We also favor regular, though modest, distributions of cash or even a small checking account.
Of course, some trusts will prohibit such arrangements. Other circumstances may prevent liberal use of alternative arrangements. We certainly do not mean to say that they are required in every case. But your job as fiduciary should include assessing (and reassessing) the use of alternative arrangements to enhance autonomy.