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You may have lost money in your investment portfolio,
due to mismanagement and not even know it.

What is a fiduciary, and is that label important to an investor?

If someone acting on behalf of you in a professional capacity -- a doctor, attorney, accountant, tax preparer, auto mechanic or other party who you rely upon for expertise in a given field -- asked you whether you would prefer they act in your best interests or in less than your best interests, wouldn't you be a bit tongue tied in responding?

If fact, might you not reasonably consider the question to be nonsensical?

What would an "OK, do something that isn't really optimal for me" answer result in? A surgical stitch that might just hold? A filed tax return that might not -- but likely could -- end up in the hands of an IRS auditor?

We ask our readers who invest their hard-earned savings with a professional money manager -- a broker or other type of financial adviser -- to consider the question in the context of retirement allocations.

Wouldn't you flatly want and fully expect your manager to act -- always and without exception -- in your best interests and not those of his or her employer?

Many readers might even consider a debate over the issue to be ludicrous, but there it is: the U.S. Department of Labor is seeking to promulgate a rule that would result in a higher level of protection for investors by demanding that their brokers act as a so-called "fiduciary" in managing their money.

Simply put, that means that an adviser taking your money must subjugate his or her personal interests to yours.

In practical terms, that often means that a broker will forgo steering investors into company funds that are laden with commissions, transaction fees and other costs that reduce their overall return while padding the broker's bottom line.

Most investors might think that such a standard is so obviously an ethical imperative that it is already the universal law of the land.

It is not, and investors are routinely disassociated of the notion when they suffer monetarily from advisers' inappropriate fund selections and attending price gouging.

A recent media piece on the investment fiduciary standard passes along some succinct and straightforward advice to consumers wondering whether their money manager acts as a fiduciary in representing them.

To wit: Ask.

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