Millions of Americans are managing money or property for a family member or friend who is unable to make financial decisions or pay bills. This can seem like an overwhelming responsibility, but these financial caregivers play a key role in maintaining the older person’s financial security and protecting them from scams and exploitation.
To help family members and other non-professional fiduciaries, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (Bureau) created a set of easy-to-understand guides called Managing Someone Else’s Money.*
The Bureau contracted and worked closely with the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging (ABA Commission) due to its experience with fiduciary issues and developing plain language guides for consumers. In October 2013, the Bureau released the original four booklets for lay fiduciaries anywhere in the United States (referred to as “national guides”). The Managing Someone Else’s Money guides are for:
- Agents under a power of attorney
- Court-appointed guardians of property
- Trustees under revocable living trusts, and Government benefit fiduciaries (Social Security representative payees and VA fiduciaries).
The guides help people acting as fiduciaries in three ways:
- The guides walk them through their duties.
- The guides tell them how to watch out for scams and financial exploitation, and what to do if their loved one is a victim.
- They tell them where to go for help.
In October 2014, the Bureau translated the national guides into Spanish.
In addition to the original four national guides, the Bureau worked with the ABA Commission to create six sets of state-specific guides. The Bureau chose states that are geographically diverse and have a large number or large percentage of older residents. Working with a team of experts in each state, the Bureau enhanced the national guides by including information about the state’s unique laws, practices and resources. The six states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon and Virginia. By February 2018, the Bureau had released the guides for all six states and had a robust dissemination plan for both the national and state versions.
But what about the other 44 states and the territories?
To make it easy for legal and aging experts in other states to adapt the guides for their states, the Bureau, working with the ABA Commission, developed and released a set of tips and templates for creating state-specific versions. The tips brochure includes information about copyright, ten tips for adapting the guides, and a list of topic areas that most frequently varied in the state-specific versions. The templates are Word versions of the national guides posted on the Bureau’s website. They identify the areas in which state law and practice seem likely to differ from the generic national language, using yellow highlighting and underlining. With these tools, it’s a straightforward process to add in state-specific information and make the guides even more actionable for residents of a given state.
The Bureau's Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans is delighted that entities in several states have adapted the guides for their states and made them available to consumers. In Texas, the state AARP office worked with Texas Appleseed to adapt the four guides, with the pro bono help of a major law firm. In addition to the guides for the four types of fiduciaries, the Texas groups created a fifth guide for supporters under a supported decision-making agreement. The five publications are presented as a toolkit for financial caregivers at www.protecttheirmoneytx.org.†
AARP, other members of the Alabama Interagency Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and Alabama WINGS (Working Interdisciplinary Network of Guardianship Stakeholders) prepared a guide for agents under a power of attorney, available at https://states.aarp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Managing-Someone-Elses-Money-in-Alabama-Help-for-Agents-Under-a-Power-of-Attorney.pdf.
The Bureau staff has heard about other state Managing Someone Else’s Money guide efforts that are underway.
The guides, tips and templates are available to download at www.consumerfinance.gov/managing-someone-elses-money. The webpage also includes information about ordering free print copies in bulk. To date, the Bureau has distributed over 1.2 million copies of the guides.
The Bureau makes these resources available to a broad spectrum of professionals, service providers, financial institutions, non-profits and government entities, in order to reach the financial caregivers they serve. As it launched each of the six sets of state guides, the Bureau held kick-off events to make key stakeholders aware of the state-specific guides. These events included in-person convenings featuring state attorneys general and state office on aging directors; webinars with state experts as presenters; and electronic launches highlighting toolkits for spreading the word.
As the population ages and more people develop cognitive impairments, the need for financial caregiving will only increase. The Managing Someone Else’s Money guides can be a critical resource for lay people serving as fiduciaries and can help ensure that their loved ones have the most secure financial future possible.
* This article includes links and references to third-party resources or content that consumers may find helpful. The Bureau does not control or guarantee the accuracy of this third-party information. By listing these links and references, the Bureau is not endorsing and has not vetted these third-parties, the views they express, or the products or services they offer. Other entities and resources also may meet your needs.
† Although the adapted guides are based on the Bureau’s guides, the Bureau has not reviewed or approved the content in the adapted guides and does not necessarily endorse the final product.
About the Author Naomi Karp, J.D., is Senior Policy Analyst at the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans in Washington, D.C. She focuses on elder financial exploitation and the impact of diminished decision-making capacity on financial security.
At the Bureau, Karp has been the team lead for the Bureau’s Managing Someone Else’s Money guides, the Interagency Guidance on Privacy Laws and Reporting Financial Abuse of Older Adults, a guide for long-term care facilities on protecting residents, and the Advisory for Financial Institutions on Preventing and Responding to Elder Financial Exploitation.
From 2005 to 2011, Karp was a Senior Strategic Policy Advisor at AARP’s Public Policy Institute. In that capacity, Karp conducted research and advocacy on elder financial exploitation, advance planning for incapacity, health care decision-making, powers of attorney, guardianship, and legal rights. She also provided technical assistance for federal and state legislative advocacy and worked with AARP’s National Policy Council. From 1988-2005, Karp served on the staff of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging. Previously she was a legal services attorney in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She received her BA from the University of Michigan and her JD from Northeastern University School of Law.