Understanding the role of a professional guardian: Q&A with a True Link customer.
When seniors discuss their finances with someone else, they are more likely to take steps to protect themselves against financial abuse. This is great news for older adults with strong support networks, but seniors without close friends or relatives to provide financial guidance also need someone to turn to. According to the New York Times, “If the person does not have trusted family members or friends, a licensed fiduciary can be a good alternative to monitor [financial] accounts.”
At True Link, we’re lucky to work with some of the best guardians and fiduciaries in the country, who work tirelessly to serve vulnerable adults and promote their well-being. Sometimes underappreciated, guardians and fiduciaries play an important role in protecting America’s aging population 24/7. To learn more about the day-to-day lives of fiduciaries, we spoke with a guardian (and True Link customer!) in Northern Florida who has been in the business for over ten years. Here’s an excerpt from our Q&A below:
Q: Who do you help as a professional guardian?
A: I work with individuals who have been deemed incapacitated by the court, a process that can be difficult and lengthy. Most of my wards are elderly and many have suffered financial exploitation by a family member, leaving them with little money or other assets.
Q: What do you do for them?
A: Because many of these individuals come to me with limited financial resources, I have to be creative about figuring out where they’re going to live and how they are going to pay for it. My goal is to get them into a safe environment where they are well taken care of and can enjoy the time they have left. I also make most medical decisions for the individual unless their family is still involved in this way. Sometimes the family is stripped of their financial rights and control, but wants to maintain a personal relationship with the individual – and I can help enable that.
Q: What do you most enjoy about being a guardian?
A: What’s most rewarding about this work is getting someone out of bad situation to a place where they’re protected from financial or physical harm.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges of your job?
A: You often have to be creative about where you find money to support someone, and if their situation is particularly bad, that can be quite challenging. You also worry about whether you’re making the right choices – the right move, the right medical decision – you want to make the best decisions for them. It’s also hard to be questioned by family members who don’t think you have their relative’s best interests in mind or don’t understand why you’re making the decisions you need to.
Q: In the case of seniors with supportive families, how could using a professional guardian be helpful?
A: When siblings are at odds about what’s best for their aging parent, it can be helpful to bring in a guardian as a neutral third party. It can also help overwhelmed or physically distant family members take some responsibility off of their plate, giving them the opportunity to focus on quality time with their loved one.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about being a guardian that you’d like to clear up?
A: Families and friends often think we’re “stealing” from our ward when we sell their homes and other assets, but we’re doing so to be able to pay for their care. It’s our job to liquidate and preserve their assets, but we still have to get a signed court order before selling any property. Court-appointed guardians do not have free rein to sell off whatever they see fit.
Q: Is there anything else you’d want people to know?
A: Being a guardian is a 24/7 job. If someone gets sick at 2:30am you need to be ready and available to make important decisions. It can be difficult to be “on” all the time, but it’s a job I’m happy I chose.
Of course, while we had her on the phone, we couldn’t help but ask some questions about how she uses True Link to manage the finances of her wards.
Q: How did you monitor & control your wards’ spending before True Link?
A: Depending on the person and where funding was coming from, I either set up a debit card for each individual or sent them regular checks to cash. It was an OK system, but it required managing over 200 separate accounts.
Q: How do you use True Link now?
A: All of my wards who are Veterans, and new individuals under guardianship that are in assisted living, get an account so I can monitor their spending, make sure funds are being used for allowable purchases, and block unapproved purchases. In one case of a granddaughter acting as caregiver, I can restrict her purchases to only those needed for her grandmother’s care. As an unintended benefit, I’m also able to figure out where someone is located based on where they’re using (or trying to use) the card.
Q: How has your experience been using True Link?
A: It’s so much easier to set up than other debit cards – it’s the smoothest process. The website is really easy to use, change spending parameters, and switch between different accounts. Right now, I have many wards with their own cards and they’ve had no complaints.
Q: Do you have any other advice on how relatives or other fiduciaries can safeguard the finances of seniors?
A: To protect against credit cards being opened and used under a loved one’s name, you can freeze their credit; two of the three credit bureaus offer this as a free service for people over 65. It’s also important to keep a close eye on bank accounts and other financial statements for unusual activity. Password-protect everything, even the cable bill, as this keeps access from getting into the wrong hands.
A big thanks to our guardian customer for talking to us so openly about her work! If you’re a fiduciary or guardian with questions about True Link, contact our fiduciary specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-415-496-9814.