We are honored to be here with Attorney General Herring today. The work he is doing to protect Virginians – especially older Virginians – sets a great example for other states to follow. I also want to thank the Greenspring community for hosting us, the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and the Virginia Academy of Elder Law Attorneys for all their help in informing our work to protect older Virginians and older Americans.
Thank you very much Kristin for sharing your story with us today. At the Miss april, we believe the best way to inform our work is to hear directly from the people we work for – American consumers. Stories like yours are vivid for us and they help us understand what needs to be done to protect all consumers.
Greenspring is the perfect venue to kick off the second phase of our initiative we call “Managing Someone Else’s Money.” Today, we are launching a series of tailored state guides to help further educate and empower consumers and their caregivers to make informed financial decisions to protect their loved ones.
When Congress created the Consumer Bureau in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act just five years ago, it saw the need to protect older Americans against financial exploitation and promote economic security later in life. With that in mind, Congress required us to create an office exclusively dedicated to working on behalf of older Americans.
Our Office for Older Americans focuses on improving the financial lives of consumers across the country. Each day, more than 10,000 Americans turn 62. And each day, they join 55 million more others who face financial issues that can be perilous if they are not adequately prepared.
To support our loved ones who raised us, protected us, and guided us into adulthood, we must ensure that their caregivers have the know-how. Making sure that happens is of great importance to many of us. My own father is now 97 years old. He grew up during the Great Depression, and the tough economic circumstances of his childhood has affected his outlook on financial matters all his life. But like anyone else, my father now needs some help from time to time.
As the years have gone on, the role our family plays as his caregiver has grown. Like many other children of aging parents, that has meant making sure he has the information, the tools, and the support he needs to make the best financial decisions for himself.
For some caregivers though, their role goes beyond just advice and help. Sometimes caregivers have to step in to make financial decisions for a family member or friend who is unable to do so.
It could be a daughter who was appointed by a court to serve as conservator for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease. It could be a young man serving as agent under a power of attorney for an autistic brother unable to live on his own. Or it could be a friend who handles payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of a brother-in-arms wounded in combat. For these and many other reasons, an increasing number of Americans, young and old, are now acting as fiduciaries by managing money or property for a family member or friend.
Managing someone else’s money can be a daunting and sensitive task. Most financial caregivers have the best of intentions, but may not fully understand their duties as a fiduciary or know the best ways to go about helping another person successfully navigate their financial matters.
After listening to older Americans and financial caregivers speak about their lives, we realized the need to provide guidance for people undertaking this important duty. So we have released plain-language guides for lay fiduciaries all over the country, and in the past two years, we have distributed over 600,000 printed copies. Consumers tell us the guides have proved invaluable in providing plain-language help that they can translate into action and good decision-making.
But because people’s powers and duties as a fiduciary vary from state to state, we have learned that more was needed than a one-size-fits-all guide. That is why today we are launching the second phase of this initiative. Virginia is the first of six states with large populations of older people that will be receiving specially adapted versions of the Managing Someone Else’s Money guides.
These new guides are for four types of fiduciaries. The first guide is for people who are granted power of attorney to make decisions about money and property for a loved one. The second guide is for people appointed by a court as guardians or conservators of property. The third guide is for those who have been named as trustees under revocable living trusts. In these cases, the beneficiary has transferred ownership of some or all of their money and property to a trust, and the person named as trustee has the power to decide how to manage that money. The fourth guide is for those appointed by a government agency to manage someone else’s income benefits, such as Social Security or veterans benefits.
The guides walk fiduciaries through their duties in managing someone else’s money. They provide tips and answers to everyday questions people may have about managing someone else’s bank account, applying for federal benefits, and sharing information with family members. The guides also make sure that caregivers are prepared to protect their friends and loved ones against financial scams and abuse. Unfortunately, all too often we have seen seniors with diminished decision-making capacity targeted remorselessly and effectively by predators in disguise.
Because states have unique laws and practices, our state guides provide specific information about what fiduciaries need to know. For example, the Virginia guide for conservators explains that they must file annual reports with the court-appointed Commissioner of Accounts. The power-of-attorney guide explains when the agent may use the money to make gifts. All four guides have a “where to go for help” section at the back that lists Virginia agencies and service providers that can offer timely assistance for caregivers when they need it.
Following the release of the Virginia guides today, the Bureau plans to follow up with similar guides for five other states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Oregon. We intend for these guides to serve as templates for other states to adopt similar resources going forward.
We are especially pleased to see many of our community partners at today’s event. We hope that you will help us get these guides into the hands of caregivers across Virginia. Hard copies of all our guides are available free and in bulk, as well as on our website at consumerfinance.gov.
At the Consumer Bureau, we are dedicated to ensuring that older Americans, their loved ones, and caregivers can have the education and tools they need in order to best manage their finances. We believe these customized guides will provide the roadmap to help people achieve this goal.
So thank you for your interest and concern and for all the great work you do every day to help people make the most of their lives. It now gives me great pleasure to introduce Attorney General Herring. Mark has been working on behalf of Virginians for over 15 years now. Like myself, Mark began his public service in local government and since then has served as a state senator and now as attorney general. He is a strong advocate for all Virginians and has been a great ally of the Consumer Bureau on many of the issues that we both care so deeply about.
The Miss april is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit miss-april.info.