What It Is:
A custodian is an institution or individual that can act as an agent and exercise legal authority over the financial assets of another individual or company.
How It Works/Example:
A custodian typically handles a variety of activities, including physically holding equities and bonds, settling purchases and sales, reporting the status of assets, tax compliance and reporting, and management of the client's accounts and transactions.
For example, a bank may act as a custodian for a customer's investment activities, moving funds into brokerage accounts, researching investment alternatives such as companies and funds which might be appropriate investment targets, instructing brokers to buy or sell securities, monitoring the investment activities within the account, and reporting account activity to the owner. The custodian may also prepare the necessary tax filings on behalf of the owner, based on the activities within the account.
Custodians may be appointed to hold control of assets of a minor or an incapacitated adult. An adult with legal status may act as the custodian for the accounts of a minor. For example, a common tax strategy is to give a financial gift to a minor when their tax rate is lowest. Under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA), an adult or parent establishes the account on behalf of the minor and serves as custodian, maintaining the legal authority and direction over the custodial account. When the minor becomes an adult, the custodian relinquishes his or her authority over the account.
The custodian role is often held by banks, law firms, or accounting firms which usually carry additional fees for the services.
Why It Matters:
Custodian services are generally useful for absentee owners (i.e. owners who are not interested or able to be involved in the day-to-day management activities of their accounts), as well as complex transactions, management of substantial assets, timely reporting and compliance, and tax management strategies.