FREDERICTON (GNB) – In her latest report, Auditor General Kim MacPherson found deficiencies pertaining to the safeguarding and administering of client assets by Public Trustee Services.

The Public Trustee protects the financial and personal interests of the elderly, the mentally challenged, children, and missing or deceased persons, when there is no one else able and willing to do so. As of March 2015, Public Trustee Services had about 400 active client files and held in trust net assets totalling about $10 million.

MacPherson concluded that processes for making care decisions on behalf of Public Trustee clients were in accordance with legislation and policies. However, a number of weaknesses pertaining to safeguarding and administering client assets were found.

“This service is addressing a sensitive and socially important need for some of the most vulnerable residents of the province,” said MacPherson. “To ensure decisions are being made in the best interest of the clients and to prevent the risk of fraud, stronger controls, comprehensive policies and proper documentation are needed.”

The current process to obtain authority to act as Public Trustee can take months. During that time, a medically discharged individual may have to remain in hospital because a decision to place them in a long-term care home cannot be made.

“Timely decisions are of utmost importance for the proper care of these clients,” said MacPherson. “In most cases, the Public Trustee is the client’s last resort for legal services, financial affairs and guardianship. Legislation changes in various areas could improve processes and make them more efficient.”

The report also identifies other legislation issues arising upon the death of a client, relating to fees that may be charged, and associated with the administration of unclaimed property. A lack of public reporting was also identified, with the auditor general noting the Public Trustee’s last annual report was for 2010-11.

MacPherson made a number of recommendations to the New Brunswick Legal Aid Services Commission regarding Public Trustee Services including:

  • developing a comprehensive set of policies and procedures for trust officers to assist them in their work, to help in training new trust officers, and to ensure consistency of client files;
  • upgrading or replacing Public Trustee Services’ current case management information system in order to meet user needs;
  • publicly reporting on Public Trustee Services’ performance; and
  • identifying legislation changes needed to address the following:
    • lack of timeliness in obtaining authority to act as Public Trustee for a client;
    • loss of authority upon death of a client;
    • limitations in fees that can be charged to clients; and
    • administration of unclaimed property.

The chapter on Public Trustee Services can be found in Volume I of the 2016 Auditor General Report, which contains three new performance reports. The volume and one page summaries for the chapters are available online.