Licensed Fiduciaries—I’m one—are individuals and business entities who hold a license, issued by a division of the Arizona Supreme Court. (My law firm is also a Licensed Fiduciary, and I am the responsible party under its license.) We provide services to people in need of assistance with personal and financial matters, and administer estates.
Courts appoint guardians, conservators, and personal representatives. A court will appoint as a guardian a person named in a will, and will also appoint as a personal representative someone named in a will. These individuals can charge a fee for their services, so long as they have been identified in the will. So, nothing about having Licensed Fiduciaries interferes with an individual’s wishes, most of the time.
If no guardian is named in a will, or if someone dies intestate (no will, remember), or if the PR named in the will cannot or will not serve, the Court can only appoint a Licensed Fiduciary or someone who will not charge a fee. As for conservators, they do not get named in an instrument, so only a Licensed Fiduciary or someone who will not charge a fee can serve. And, where a trust needs a trustee and a successor has not been identified, or the named successor cannot or will not serve, judges will not, generally, appoint anyone other than a Licensed Fiduciary or a trust company or bank trust department.
So what is a Licensed Fiduciary? Someone who holds the referenced license, for starters! That means someone who has passed a test that doesn’t fall into the realm of the bar exam but is much more difficult than a driver’s license test. Licensed Fiduciaries must get past a character investigation, and not everyone comes through successfully. Licensed Fiduciaries must post a bond, and they have to complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years. (A small number of Licensed Fiduciaries are attorneys.)
The Fiduciary Board—11 members, of which I am one—regulates Licensed Fiduciaries. We review misconduct allegation, and decide who does and does not get or keep a license. (The Licensed Fiduciary program grew out of problems with people handling other people’s money and, too often, putting some of that OPM in their own pockets.)
Licensed Fiduciaries provide a variety of services. Many focus on guardianship work, which often involves dealing with the hardest work for demented adults who do not have family, or whose family cannot or will not provide the necessary support.
Others focus on conservatorship cases, and many of them meet basic needs—bill paying, mostly—for elderly people. A few Licensed Fiduciaries—me among them—focus on more complex cases, often cases involving substantial or complicated assets, or especially difficult family dynamics.
In some instances a Licensed Fiduciary may be forced on a situation by the court. Where family members are feuding, or where someone can’t obtain a surety bond in an amount that equals the money/assets he or she will be handling, the court will often appoint a Licensed Fiduciary.
If you have a complicated family situation, even where you can still name a personal representative in a will or a trustee in a trust, a Licensed Fiduciary can often add value. Having a trained professional, with no financial or other stake in the outcome of a given situation, can bring peace to the valley and, despite the fees you will pay, the Licensed Fiduciary can often save tens of thousands of dollars or more in avoided litigation expenses.