Fiduciary Bonds: Definition, Types, Costs

Couple considers a fiduciary bond

A fiduciary bond, otherwise known as a probate bond, is a protective court bond that ensures a fiduciary will honor the expectations placed on them according to the law. The fiduciary bond upholds the interests and protection of the estate or trust owner. To understand who needs a fiduciary bond, how it works and the costs involved, here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Fiduciary Bond?

Fiduciary bonds are legal instruments that act as insurance to protect heirs, beneficiaries or other creditors when a fiduciary commits acts of fraud, embezzlement or other forms of dishonesty. To prevent damage, as a result, the court may require anyone with a fiduciary responsibility to another party to get a fiduciary bond.

Generally speaking, a fiduciary is an individual responsible for safeguarding the interest of another party. Fiduciaries may include trustees, guardians, financial professionals or another party with control over someone’s assets or property. Typically, a fiduciary will take control of someone’s assets when they are no longer able to manage them independently.

For example, a will may name a fiduciary to maintain the decedent’s assets. However, in the absence of a will, the spouse or children may take control, followed by relatives.

A fiduciary bond can range in price and ultimately depends on the value of the estate, as well as a few other factors. It may only be required to pay a portion to fund the bond, rather than the entire amount. For instance, if the fiduciary bond is $100,000, you may only need to pay about $400 to $600, depending on whether you receive approval.

Example of a Fiduciary Bond

Let’s say that John Smith is an elderly man who can no longer manage his property and assets. He didn’t appoint anyone to manage his finances, so the court appoints his daughter, Sally, to manage them in his place. To protect these assets, she may need to secure a fiduciary bond to guarantee she will meet her role’s duties and responsibilities.

The bond will help ensure that Sally won’t sell her father’s estate or embezzle money from him. If someone thinks Sally is not fulfilling the role of a fiduciary, they can make a claim against her. The company that issued the bond will then step in and fulfill the claim.

The company would likely reimburse John Smith for any money lost and then pursue Sally for the reimbursement of funds. If Sally no longer wants to be the estate’s fiduciary, she must find a suitable replacement and get approval from the court to resign. Until she does so, she is accountable for the duties and responsibilities of the fiduciary.

Who Needs a Fiduciary Bond?

A fiduciary bond isn’t always required. If it is mandatory, the fiduciary will receive a notification from the court.

In some cases, beneficiaries or creditors may request a fiduciary bond if they have concerns about the integrity of the fiduciary.

Usually, when banks, trusts or other corporate fiduciaries are in the mix, the courts don’t require a fiduciary bond. This is because there is less of a risk that a corporate fiduciary will compromise the payout.

Fiduciary Bond Types, Costs

Some of the common types of fiduciary bonds include:

  • Personal Representative Bond – This bond reassures the parties invested and connected to an estate that the fiduciary will manage the estate affairs in a responsible and ethical manner. The latter will also comply with local, state and federal laws and duties.
  • Executor Bond – This bond reassures the beneficiaries of an estate that even if the fiduciary doesn’t fulfill their duties, the bond will protect them and they will also receive compensation.
  • Guardianship Bond – This bond protects an individual who is receiving day-to-day care from a guardian. If the guardian fails to perform his or her obligations, someone can make a claim against the person.
  • Trustee Bond – It’s the trustee’s duty and responsibility to handle the trust’s property and assets. This bond ensures that the trustee fulfills his duties appropriately.
  • Administrator Bond – This bond ensures that the administrator of an estate distributes the estate assets according to local, state and federal laws.
  • Conservatorship Bond – A conservator handles the monetary matters of someone who needs to be cared for by a guardian. This type of bond ensures that the conservator upholds the duties and responsibilities of the role.

A fiduciary bond can range in price and ultimately depends on the value of the estate, as well as a few other factors. It may only be required to pay a portion to fund the bond, rather than the entire amount. For instance, if the fiduciary bond is $100,000, you may only need to pay about $400 to $600, depending on whether you receive approval.

Duties and Obligations of a Fiduciary

Financial advisor talks to clientsThere are many different types of fiduciaries; therefore, their duties and obligations vary. For example, an executor’s duties include taking control of a decedent’s property, collecting debts and arranging appraisals of assets. On the other hand, a trustee may have duties such as directing audits, challenging improper claims and determining claimants. In comparison, guardians and conservators may have the extra responsibility to care for an incapacitated individual or minor.

When fulfilling the role of a fiduciary, the individual must have a high level of loyalty since it’s one of the highest standards of care by either equity or law.

It’s important to note that anyone who gives financial advice or handles funds is also a fiduciary. However, if they work for a company, the company is required to obtain a fidelity bond, which differs from a fiduciary bond.

The Takeaway

Two men shake hands

A fiduciary bond protects individuals who have their estate or trust managed and handled by a fiduciary. While the court may not always require a fiduciary bond, there are some instances where it may make sense to protect an individual’s assets. A fiduciary bond is a crucial protection to aid those who may not have other forms of recourse. Bonded fiduciaries are often members of a person’s immediate family.

Estate Planning Tips

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor experienced in estate planning. Finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s advisor matching tool can set you up with three personalized financial advisor options in just minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • If you have a sizable estate, estate taxes on either the state or federal level could be hefty. However, you can easily plan ahead for taxes to maximize your loved ones’ inheritances. For example, you can gift portions of your estate in advance to heirs or even set up a trust.

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