An ABC Four Corners Report, aired in March 2022, has triggered two separate independent investigations into Queensland’s Office of the Public Trustee.
The report revealed that the Public Trustee had not only been charging its customers excessive fees to manage their affairs but, also pointed to evidence of poor financial management, causing clients to lose significant amounts of money.
Criticisms levelled at the government organisation include that:
- There are issues with the amount and complexity of the fees charged by the agency for the services they provide.
- There is poor communication, resulting in customers not having a clear understanding of how their funds are being handled.
- Funds have been mismanaged; and
- That the public trustee has earnt revenue from clients’ funds.
It appears that this issue is not just contained to Queensland. Allegations have been made against WA’s Public Trustee for mismanagement of client funds. The chair of the Tasmanian Public Trustee has recently resigned after being under pressure from a damning independent review that was released last year. In 2018, the office of the Public Trustee for the ACT stood down staff after auditors were called into investigate irregularities in accounts. There is also evidence that the CEO of the State Trustee (VIC Public Trustee) was stood down in 2018 after mismanagement of public funds.
What does the Public Trustee do?
In NSW, the New South Wales Trustee and Guardian (NSWT&G) can be appointed as an individual’s guardian or financial manager. As their financial manager, they are responsible for looking after all (or part) of a person’s financial and legal affairs. An order to appoint NSWT&G is made by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which is a quasi-judicial body. NSWT&G will only be appointed in circumstances where the individual in question does not have capacity to look after their affairs by themselves and there is no appropriate family or friends who can do that for them.
Classically, NSWT&G will be asked to assist people who have problems with their cognition which impacts their day to day management of their own affairs. This could include customers with Alzheimer’s, dementia, memory disorders and acquired brain injuries.
How can I avoid this happening to me?
It is easy to see how scandal currently faced by the QLD Public Trustee will rock any Australian who places faith in a government agency to look after their affairs.
The scandal demonstrates the importance of reviewing who will handle your affairs if you are unable to do so for yourself, and making sure you have put in place documents that will enable this to occur. This is called Estate Planning. It is integral that you appoint someone you know, trust and are confident will look after your affairs. People you know won’t abuse their position of power and will ultimately act in a way that is solely in your best interests.
What is Estate Planning?
Estate Planning essentially involves setting up documents which ensure that:
- When you pass away, your loved ones are provided for and your assets are distributed according to your wishes, and
- Appropriate people are appointed to manage both your financial and health affairs, in the event that you lose the capacity to make important decisions for yourself.
These documents are: your Will, Power of Attorney and Appointment of Enduring Guardian.
A Will is a document that outlines how your assets are distributed after you pass away.
A Power of Attorney is a document which enables you to appoint a person to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. Nominating an Attorney gives you peace of mind by knowing that someone you trust will be able to make important financial and legal decisions for you, when you are unable to make them yourself. Your Power of Attorney can be quite prescriptive as to what affairs your attorney is authorised to manage and how they are to do this.
An Appointment of Enduring Guardianship is a document which appoints someone to make decisions on your behalf, when you are unable to do so yourself, in relation to health care and lifestyle matters.