…good estate planning requires advice from more than one discipline.
I was talking this morning with a friend of mine who is an estate planner. I haven’t known him for a long time, but I like his approach, and I think it differentiates him from other financial planners I’ve known, because he’s got a passion that you can’t really fake, and it is clearly about doing the right thing for the client. In this case, it means that he spends a considerable amount of time helping clients protect what they already have before he talks to them about using the wealth they have to accumulate more to fund whatever their end goal is.
I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that not everyone is wealthy, but I think that most people want to build what wealth they have. Sure, some people have come to see me about their estate planning because they have gotten the bad news from a doctor, and that distant inevitability is now an impending certainty. A holistic approach is probably not foremost in their minds, but an awful lot of people I’ve represented have more wealth than they think they do, and when we sort that out as part of the process, it often requires consulting with other professionals. Granted, if we’re doing the estate planning because someone has stage four cancer, then we aren’t likely to be talking with them about life insurance, but we might be talking with them about brokerage accounts, 401(k)s, individual retirement accounts, and their interests in closely-held corporations and LLCs, which means that we will be talking about transfer-on-death or payable-on-death designations on accounts, and how those designations can impact their estates, which means that we will be talking with their financial planners. We will be talking about potential tax consequences for various potential courses of action, which means that we will be talking with CPA’s and accountants. And sometimes, I even end up talking to representatives of charities about gifts that clients want to make. When I am doing this for the clients who know that they aren’t long for this world, I’m not just sad for the client’s approaching demise. I’m sad for the opportunities that they lost by not acting sooner. Sometimes, this is because of procrastination, and sometimes, it’s because people don’t understand that estate planning shouldn’t be a mass of disjointed pieces, but a comprehensive plan, focused on the goals they rate as most important, and executed with a series of coordinated steps which have been considered and mapped out with the assistance of a team of professionals who want to help them succeed. Once I help clients to fully understand this approach, I don’t often end up having conversations about cost, because they understand that compared to the return they can achieve, the cost is minimal.