Because your help will influence important decisions about Tom’s life, including financial decisions, your responsibility is to help him make the decision that is best for him, not for anyone else. This means you must ignore your own interests and needs and the interests and needs of other people.
To help act in Tom’s best interest, follow these guidelines:
- Read and understand the supported decision-making agreement. Your powers and responsibilities as Tom’s supporter are written in the agreement. The agreement will look like a special form as provided by law. Read the agreement closely, and talk to a lawyer if you don’t understand it. Ask questions and learn all you can about what you should do—and what you should not do.
- Do what the agreement says—and don’t try to do anything that it does not include. It is important that you not act beyond what the agreement allows and that you carry out the basic tasks necessary.
- Work with Tom to understand his intentions. As supporter, help Tom make his decisions, but don’t make them for him. Many things can affect your actions. For example, you might feel pressure from others. Consider these steps:
- First, ask Tom what he wants. He may be able to decide some things without much assistance. If so, take that into account, especially if a particular decision is similar to his thinking in the past and the risk of harm to him is not unreasonable. For example, if Tom wants to handle money without your help, see if he can manage a small bank account or a monthly cash allowance. Doing this will let him be in charge of a set amount, and you will limit the risk to that amount.
- Second, look at Tom’s past decisions, actions, and statements to help him make his decisions. Find as much information as you can. Help Tom make the decision you think that he truly wants to make, unless doing so would harm him.
Remember, you must help Tom make the decision that is best for him. Do not pressure Tom to make a decision based on your own desires or anyone else’s. Help Tom put his well being above saving money for others who may inherit his money and property.
- Avoid conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest happens if you influence Tom to make a decision about his property that may benefit you or someone else at Tom’s expense. Because you must exercise your authority as supporter only on Tom’s behalf, you have a responsibility to avoid conflicts of interest—or even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Keep an “arm’s length distance” between your interests and any use of Tom’s money.
- Help Tom avoid borrowing, loaning, or giving money to others, unless it is in his best interest. If the agreement allows you to help with financial decisions, make sure that any gifts or loans do not create a conflict of interest, and do not influence him to give you anything. Make sure that any gifts given to others do not increase or complicate Tom’s taxes or change his plans for his property when he dies. If it is clear Tom wants to make a gift—for example, if Tom gives money every year to a charity—help him figure out the best way to do so.
- Keep Tom’s money and property separate from yours. If you are authorized to help Tom make financial decisions, make sure he never mixes his money or property with your own or someone else’s. Mixing money or property makes it unclear who owns what and could create the appearance that you are taking advantage of Tom. Separate means separate. Make sure to:
- Avoid joint accounts. If Tom already has money or property in a joint account with you or someone else, get legal advice before making any change.
- Keep title to Tom’s money and property in his own name. This is so other people can see right away that the money and property is Tom’s and not yours.
- Avoid paying Tom’s expenses from your funds. Spending your money on Tom and then paying yourself back makes it hard to keep good records.
- Encourage Tom to get legal help before changing his plans for giving away his money or property when he dies. Tom may decide to change his estate plan, and doing so may be in his best interest. But if the agreement allows you to help make financial decisions, you should encourage him to get legal advice before he does so.