Documenting Fiduciary Accounting Practices
Fiduciary accounting, which is also referred to as court accounting, is a way to document and report financial activity during a discrete period of time for legal entities, such as a conservatorship, estate, trust or guardianship.
It’s meant to give adequate notice to all relevant parties when it comes to every consequential financial activity impacting the administration that occurred over the accounting time frame. It shows every disbursement and receipt that is managed by the legal entity’s fiduciary. It accounts for transactions beginning with the initial funding or principal, and the resulting future transactions, including income.
When it comes to the format of fiduciary accounting, along with the United States having its own unique modifications, the Uniform Principal and Income Act requires checking the governing instruments, in addition to state laws, to ensure fiduciary accounting compliance is met. However, looking at the National Standard Format, the following components in a filing are accepted by most courts:
- Documentation of incoming and outgoing monetary sums of the legal entity’s starting principal and income produced
- Documentation of the entity’s liabilities and assets
- Documentation of any payment the fiduciary received
- Legally authorized individuals hired by the fiduciary, what pay they received and their association with the fiduciary
The primary consideration is that being part of being a fiduciary is having a legal duty to the beneficiary of the legal entity, including “the duty to account” to the beneficiary. This duty to account is oftentimes required by the governing document, the state statute, a court order, linked to court proceedings or a beneficiary requesting an accounting. If this duty is breached, the fiduciary may be liable.
The accounting should ensure a reporting of every asset in the legal entity. During the first year, the beginning balance will list the assets that fund the account. For successive accountings, the starting balance and the ending asset values on the preceding accounting should be the same. Along with the assets in custody of the legal entity being documented, any asset that has been withdrawn, paid out or moved must also be documented. Income received from the entity’s investments is to be measured against the principal and income investment schedules to ensure that all income, dividends and interest have been received and reported correctly.
Reasons Why an Accounting is Done
Some of the more straightforward reasons a fiduciary accounting is done is to ensure the fiduciary is compliant. There’s also greater efficiency when doing this annually versus more infrequent intervals, since mistakes can be identified and corrected sooner. The same accounting results can also be used for the entity’s tax filings.
Other reasons concern the fiduciary and beneficiaries. The beneficiary can review and challenge the accounting if there’s impropriety suspected. When the fiduciary has completed their responsibilities for the beneficiaries and entity, liability for the fiduciary may cease to exist, even if the beneficiaries decline to execute a receipt, release and refunding agreement (or similar document). If an approved accounting is necessary to be submitted with a court, the above four documents may be considered an acceptable substitution in place of an accounting.
Regardless of the type of legal entity that requires this type of fiduciary accounting, a fiduciary that is diligent and works with an accounting and legal professional can reduce the chances of exposing themself and their supervising entities from unnecessary exposure.