What Is a Fiduciary?

A fiduciary is a person who owes to another, as a matter of equity, duties of good faith, trust, confidence, and candor.  A fiduciary is held to the highest standard of care in managing another’s affairs or money, and is obligated to act in the best interest of the person to whom he owes a fiduciary relationship, even when doing so injures the fiduciary’s own interests.  The following relationships are fiduciary relationships:  personal representative-beneficiary, trustee-beneficiary, guardian-ward, agent-principal, attorney-client, stockbroker-customer. Other relationships may also be construed as fiduciary relationships.  Black’s Law Dictionary, s.v. fiduciary, fiduciary relationship.

The core meaning of being a fiduciary is to act for the benefit of another person within the scope of the relationship.  A fiduciary owes the person depending upon him duties, some of which are diligent performance of his duties, prudent judgment, loyalty, impartiality as between multiple beneficiaries, to identify, collect, and protect property, to maintain control of the tasks that are your fiduciary responsibility even though delegated, and to inform beneficiaries as discretion warrants.

In my experience, judges treat fiduciaries quite differently from non-fiduciaries.  When a non-fiduciary is accused of financial wrong, the court sets a hearing to determine the facts.  When a fiduciary is accused of financial wrong, the court may well ask the fiduciary to write a check for the amount in question, and then set a hearing to sort out the matter.  Fiduciaries are held to a higher standard.

An attorney's duty to maintain the confidences and secrets of his client is a core responsibility.  Attorneys also, however, have fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries of trusts and estates which their clients serve.  The Rules of Professional Conduct permit an attorney to report a client's misdeeds to the court about when that client is a court-appointed fiduciary.  RPC 1.6(7).  You might wish to consider the last section of my Instructions to Personal Representatives.