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What does the term "fiduciary" mean in estate planning?

Estate planning discussions contain a lot of terminology, which may be confusing to people unfamiliar with legalese. Before getting started on your question, you first need to know that if you are working with an estate planning attorney, he or she will be glad to answer any questions you have. Anytime you hear confusing terminology like trustees, executors and fiduciaries, you should never be afraid to ask your lawyer what these terms mean.

The term fiduciary is used in many fields but the meaning is the same for them all: a person who holds assets in trust for another. During the estate planning process, you may hear the three terms already mentioned—trustees, executors and fiduciaries—lumped together, but they are not always exactly the same. However, sometimes the terms are indeed interchangeable in estate planning. For example, a trustee or a will executor is a fiduciary because he or she is responsible for settling your estate or administering a trust on behalf of your beneficiaries.

While anyone can be appointed as a trustee, executor or fiduciary in terms of estate planning, people often choose a professional to fill the role of fiduciary. Two examples of the kind of professionals Pennsylvania residents rely on as fiduciary include attorneys and financial advisors. For best results, it is wise to choose an alternate trustee, executor or fiduciary in case your first choice is unable to fulfill the role. This is particularly important if you have chosen a non-professional fiduciary (spouse, friend, relative, etc.).

Even if you decide to choose a friend or a family member to serve as fiduciary, it is still beneficial to seek legal advice when planning your estate. This ensures you have not made any mistakes resulting in legal, airtight estate planning documents.

Source: The Balance, "What is a Fiduciary?," Julie Garber, accessed Nov. 15, 2016

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