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What Does it Mean to be a “Fiduciary”?

In the estate planning world we used the term “fiduciary” a lot. Trustees, administrators, executors, and agents under a power of attorney are all “fiduciaries”. What does that term mean?

A fiduciary is an individual who undertakes to act for and on behalf of another in a particular matter. A fiduciary has to perform his duties with the utmost of trust and honesty. A fiduciary is expected to be loyal to the person to whom he owes the duty (the “principal”). He must not put his personal interests before the principal and must not profit from his position as a fiduciary unless the principal consents.

The most common circumstances where a fiduciary is involved in estate planning is when a trustee administers a trust. The trustee is a fiduciary who must administer the trust estate for the benefit of the beneficiaries. If an individual dies with a will, the executor of the will is the fiduciary who administers the will and distributes the estate to the beneficiaries. An estate administered for someone without a will is called an administrator, also a fiduciary. All of these individuals have the duty to act with the utmost of loyalty and impartiality.

Other examples of fiduciaries are conservators and agents acting under a power of attorney or a health care directive.These individuals also have the duty to act in good faith and in the best interests of the principal.

The job of being a fiduciary is a serious one. A fiduciary who breaches his fiduciary duties can be held liable on a number of theories including negligence, fraud, financial elder abuse, even criminal prosecution. You should know what is expected of you so that you can properly perform your fiduciary duties.
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