Susan B. Ghormley, JD, CLPF, NGA Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC) Board President


As a Professional Fiduciary, and currently President of PFAC, Susan provides private and court appointed fiduciary services in estate and personal management as a Conservator of the Person and/or Estate, Trustee, Agent for Powers of Attorney, Probate Administrator and more. She works to protect the physical and mental integrity of persons who have no one else to rely on, or whose families live too far away or are unable to assist their family member in need of support. These services are provided with care and respect for the wishes of those she serves.

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The benefits of choosing a professional fiduciary

We have all heard of ‘our aging population’. Boomers are getting older resulting in rapid changes in demographics.  The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent.

As we get older, worries about the future come into focus: who will help with healthcare and financial decisions when we are no longer able? Or, who can help provide these services for elders, disabled and developmentally impaired if they do not have family members capable of managing these issues? There are licensed professionals trained to provide the very services our elders and others will need; licensed professional fiduciaries.

What is a Licensed Professional Fiduciary?

Professional fiduciaries are licensed and regulated by the State of California. While following a strict code of ethics, we are entrusted to provide oversight services that ensure our clients’ dignity and peace of mind while preserving their assets and assisting with their healthcare and other personal needs. Licensed professional fiduciaries bring the experience, resources and knowledge to oversee important financial and care matters like managing the client’s estate by appropriately investing the assets, keeping bills and taxes paid, assisting physicians and care providers with medical decisions, assuring proper medical care is in place, determining appropriate housing and so much more — all provided with the compassion and care that each client deserves.

A Few Examples of What We Do and Who We Serve

Licensed professional fiduciaries are an invaluable and impartial third-party resource, especially for elders and others with potentially difficult family dynamics. So many of our clients are being taken advantage of – – by that needy adult daughter who has convinced her mother she is desperate for money, or the adult son who is quietly emptying Mother’s account while living in her home to ‘take care’ of her.  The licensed professional fiduciary is empowered by the court to close the client’s accounts and reopen them in the name of the conservatorship in order to stop these kinds of abuses.

Known as “undue influence,” we often find individuals seeking to manipulate the elder in order to take money or other assets. A licensed professional fiduciary is often appointed because we can step in to right an existing wrong or ensure this does not happen in the first place. Having oversight of the elder’s entire financial situation, we can further assist in seemingly small ways such as catching bank errors or overcharges, review of medical bills for accuracy and so much more that can add up over time.  As somewhat of a “captain of the ship” with a view of the big picture, we can recognize and correct these issues with ongoing oversight.

Our clients represent a wide variety of clients, providing services to those with developmental disabilities or special needs, and the mentally ill, and elders as well as serving as guardians of children.  In order to serve these clients best, we work closely with other professionals, including investment specialists, attorneys, and even contractors and handymen. One of our most important relationships is with care agencies providing in-home care and support.  We work closely with the caregivers and their managers, communicating frequently regarding the status and best interests of our clients.  The caregivers are our eyes and ears and we well know that we could not provide effective assistance without the help of qualified, compassionate caregivers.

What Qualifications Do Professional Fiduciaries Have?

Licensed professional fiduciaries are licensed by the State of California, and must meet certain educational requirements, pass an exam and maintain our licenses through continuing education. These professionals are strictly bound by the Probate Code and ultimately answer to the Court even if the matter is not court-supervised. The Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC) is a member-based trade organization that requires members to adhere to a code of conduct and ethics. It also gives members access to ongoing professional education, resources and shared knowledge to continuously improve our services.

Professional fiduciaries can also be bonded—meaning our services are insured to protect beneficiaries and heirs if the fiduciary fails to perform honestly and ethically.

The Benefits of Hiring a Professional Fiduciary

Not only is it important to have someone safeguarding the assets and well-being of an elder or someone needing assistance and oversight, we treat elders, disabled and children alike with dignity and caring. Whether to assist with estate and conservatorship matters, or just help with day to day life management, professional fiduciaries can help to find the best services and care available. We maintain a long-term view into the future (and are obligated by the courts) to work to make our clients’ assets last for their lifetime. Many of PFAC’s professional fiduciaries have maintained long relationships with clients and family members, often forming lasting caring relationships over decades of service.

Professional fiduciaries are held to the utmost ethical standards and are ultimately responsible, and in fact liable, for the actions of anyone we hire to assist you, such as investors or realtors, and even attorneys. Should the professional fiduciary fail to adequately supervise these activities, we can be personally surcharged by the court. As you can see, many regulations and laws are in place to keep our clients’ best interests at the core of how professional fiduciaries perform business. We are here to protect you.

How Can You Find a Professional Fiduciary?

The Professional Fiduciary Association of California has over 500 licensed fiduciary members serving clients throughout California and can assist with finding an appropriate fiduciary for any situation. Please refer to the PFAC official website here.

Other resources to locate a licensed professional fiduciary include attorneys who specialize in trusts and estates or probate; some care agencies and doctors may also be familiar with what great benefit a licensed professional can provide.

There are a few key questions to ask when searching for a licensed professional fiduciary:

  • Is the fiduciary licensed by the State of California?
  • A member of a professional organization?
  • Has strong/positive references from previous and current clients?
  • Has the expertise to handle your particular situation?

These are but a few of the many benefits to hiring a licensed professional fiduciary.  We have the knowledge and resources to help manage the estates and physical and mental welfare of those we serve. These are often complicated matters and require experience and expertise. Hiring a licensed professional fiduciary can also help minimize family drama and preserve relationships among siblings and relatives.  We can provide peace of mind that matters are being handled in a skilled and ethical way, with the dignity we all deserve.

We welcome your questions and will work tirelessly to provide the services you and your clients deserve.

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