VOUCHERS YOU CAN VOUCH FOR

September 23, 2010 § 6 Comments

by Jane Stroble Miller, Senior Staff Attorney for the Twelfth Chancery Court District

Shortly after graduating from law school I was confronted with a baffling legal question.  An older and more experienced attorney was attempting to do something that Mississippi statutes and case law clearly stated he could not do.  In my naiveté I assumed he knew of a statute or case about which I was ignorant that allowed him to act as he did.  After several hours of exhaustive research I called a former professor and mentor, the Honorable William Champion.  On hearing my dilemma, he chuckled and informed me that I had just encountered an attorney who had been practicing law for so long that he had lost touch with what the law was. 

Recently I again encountered this phenomenon in my duty as staff attorney in monitoring probate matters.  One of my tasks is to try to explain to attorneys why the chancellor feels that their accountings do not meet the requirements of both the statutes and the Uniform Chancery Court Rules (UCCR).  In a meeting with an older attorney, I pointed out that he had failed to attach vouchers to his accounting.  He insisted that he could not provide the necessary documentation “because the banks no longer returned the original canceled checks,” and remained firmly stuck to that position.  I realized that I would have to do some research to arrive at a definitive answer.

Section 91-7-277, MCA, requires that the annual account show ” … disbursements, every item of which and the amount thereof to be distinctly stated and supported by legal voucher …”  Sections 91-7-279 and 93-13-71, MCA, prescribe the form for vouchers and provide that the account shall be rejected by the clerk unless the vouchers are in the proper form.  The only exception to the voucher requirement is when the guardian is an approved financial institution.

Over time, attorneys began using original canceled checks as “legal vouchers,” and the courts recognized them as such.  Although neither the statutes nor case law identify canceled checks as “legal vouchers,” there is authority in UCCR.  In fact, UCCR 6.04 does specifically refer to “a receipt or cancelled bank check …” as a voucher.

The problem with canceled checks as vouchers, however, is that if you stop at the check, you have omitted the most important, and meaningful, part of Rule 6.04.  The sentence of the Rule dealing with vouchers, in its entirety is as follows:  “Every such voucher shall consist of a receipt or cancelled bank check showing to whom and for what purpose the money was paid.”  [Emphasis added]

In other words, if the canceled check fulfills the function of showing “to whom and for what purpose the money was paid,” then it is a proper voucher within the meaning of the Rule.  If the canceled check does not do that job, it is not an acceptable legal voucher.  Put even plainer:  if the canceled check would not otherwise be acceptable as a receipt, it simply is not a legal voucher.

UCCR Rule 6.06 (Lost Vouchers) reinforces my conclusions.  It states that if the original voucher is lost or destroyed, a duplicate or ” … receipt from the person or corporation to whom the money was paid or the property was delivered … ” may be accepted by the court.  Again, the function of a voucher is to document actual payment, the recipient and the purpose.

I even looked at Black’s Law Dictionary, which defines voucher as ” … an account, receipt, or acquittance, that shows on its face the fact, authority, and purpose of the disbursement.” 

Given no hard and fast definition of a “legal voucher,” I formulated the following requirements for a voucher to be sufficient to comply with our laws:

  • A voucher must first and foremost be legal evidence that the money was disbursed for the purpose for which it is authorised or allowed.
  • It must be in writing or printed and show the payee, amount and date, and services or goods for which the disbursement was made. 
  • A check made out to “cash” , even an original canceled check is not a “legal voucher.” 

Canceled checks, whether copies or original, really only prove that a payee was paid a certain amount of money.   In some circumstances, canceled checks may not be adequate proof.  For instance, when a court has authorized the purchase of a computer for a minor ward, a canceled check to Best Buy or Sam’s Club does not prove the money was disbursed for a computer.  The check could have just as likely been used to purchase a big screen television or a new set of tires for the guardian’s car.  The same holds true for many canceled checks for clothing or personal items.  Since vouchers are supposed to be “evidence,” the better practice is for an attorney to have printed receipts that match the date and amount of a canceled check.  The guardian should provide the attorney with register tapes, tags or price stickers from the items purchased to prove that the disbursements were actually made for the ward and not for another party or purpose.

The best yardstick that both a judge and attorney could employ in determining the adequacy of a voucher would be to ask whether or not the proof would be of such a nature and sufficiency to be admissible as evidence at a trial and contains all the information necessary to convince the average person that the disbursement was made for what the guardian claimed it was made.

It took me a little time, digging and thought to arrive at my conclusions, but I had Professor Champion’s wisdom as a starting point and a reminder that sometimes we can practice law so long that we lose touch with what the law is.

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§ 6 Responses to VOUCHERS YOU CAN VOUCH FOR

  • […] Failure to account timely and properly. All expenses and receipts must be accounted for annualy or more frequently if ordered by the court. UCCR 6.03-6.06 detail the voucher requirement. There’s a right way and a wrong way to file an accounting. There is a checklist for doing an accounting here. You can read more about accounting and vouchers here. […]

  • […] no questionable transactions, no unapproved withdrawals. Your accountings should be annual, with proper vouchers. If Mr. Brown’s experience still does not shake you out of your lethargy, re-read this post […]

  • […] and disbursements. This is the “voucher” requirement that was previously posted about here. The required documentation includes ALL statements of any accounts or investments showing income […]

  • […] The final account must include a re-cap of the previous annual accounts, and must also set out the final annual of disbursements and charges since the last account, supported by proper vouchers as required in MCA §§ 93-13-71, -73 and 91-7-277.  The only exception to the requirement of proper vouchers is when the guardian is a federally regulated bank, thrift or trust company, and there is a sworn statement of an officer that the vouchers are available for inspection.  What constitutes a proper voucher was the subject of a previous post that you can find here. […]

  • Mike says:

    Ms Miller

    Thank for for this post. I have always been unclear about what constitutes a voucher. I am still a little unsure however.

    If a client has a receipt such a a cash register receipt, it would not seem to meet your requirements, without more. Would you create a statement in your computer for you client to sign showing the payee, purpose etc?

    What about a power bill, together with a canceled check? To pay the lawnboy, do you create a voucher for him to sign?

    Could the client just create a document, with the required info, and sign it? Or create a form for clients to use and have recipients sign, save for cases where you have a canceled check?

    Could you redact and publish examples if valid/inadequate vouchers?

    Thank you.

    • Larry says:

      Jane Miller’s reply …

      First of all, thank you for your response. Your inquiries show that you have grasped the complexity of authenticating disbursements for wards. As a general rule, you should remember two things:

      First, the rules of evidence will control admissibility of any document or testimony at a hearing challenging a guardian’s handling of a ward’s money and property.

      Second, these types of cases are heard by chancellors in Mississippi. They are the tryers of fact. They are the ones who will observe the testimony or proof presented by the guardian. They are more likely to believe the guardian’s explanation of disbursements which are more difficult to document if their proof form more easily documented disbursements is complete.

      It would be beyond the scope of this blog to address every conceivable type or example of what would vouch for a disbursement. Common sense must be used. Remember the definition from Black’s Law Dictionary. A voucher is ” … an account, receipt, or acquittance, that shows on its face the fact, authority, and purpose of the disbursement.” Guardians should be advised by their attorneys that they may be called upon to prove that they actually spent the funds as they allege they have. They should use checks and keep all writings which prove how and for what the disbursement was made. This may limit the places where they shop or the service providers they use. As stated, the yardstick is havong the documentation that an average person will believe. Bills, invoice and detailed cash register receipts along with price tags or stickers can be easily kept by the guardian. I would view self-created statements or affidavits to have little more credibility than checks made out to “cash” with the words “power bill” or “clothing” written on the memo line.

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