Are You Asking The Right Questions In Estate Planning?
Matthew Jarvis, CFP®, digs into how to build a solid relationship with your clients so you can discover what they really want when planning their estate.
3.5 min read
Too many advisors say they offer “comprehensive estate planning,” however, their version of estate planning is passing a client off to the estate planning attorney on their golf team and checking a box in the CRM.
I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t “comprehensive” at all. You shouldn’t pass clients around to other professionals just to check an aspect of planning off your list.
Estate planning is a serious business because you can’t fix any mistakes made in the planning process after the client dies.
As the financial advisor, you are the only professional in your client’s life with a full view of their goals and economic aspirations.
It’s your job to catch mistakes before it’s too late.
Every other professional your client works with will only be able to see small sections of your client’s financial puzzle and may not be able to see how all the pieces come together.
But how are you supposed to do that?
We like to use a guided discovery process with our clients first to foster a trusting relationship. And then, we’ll figure out what the client thinks they need and what they actually want to happen with their estate.
Here’s a rundown of how estate planning should work.
Build a relationship
Ultimately, an estate planning attorney is responsible for creating the legal documentation outlining your client’s final wishes. However, simply passing your client off to the estate attorney isn’t a great practice for building solid client/advisor relationships.
Recently, I asked a new client named Dave to bring his estate planning documents for me to review. At first, Dave was a bit frustrated with me because I asked the same questions as the estate planning attorney.
Dave felt irritated because he had just been through this process with the attorney and paid to have the documents drafted, so it felt like I was beating a dead horse.
However, as I was reviewing the documents and asking probing questions, I found that because this was a blended family, the relatives of the first spouse to die were disinherited.
With how the estate attorney drafted the documents, you see that the estate went to the surviving spouse when one side of the family tree passed away—which is pretty standard. However, when that spouse dies, their family gets everything, and the other side of the family won’t get a penny.
Dave didn’t want this!—but it’s what he inadvertently asked for.
The estate attorney didn’t ask any follow-up questions to clarify Dave’s intent. The attorney did what was asked, and that was it.
Heaven forbid the worst happened to Dave on his way home; there would have been no way for Dave’s family to fix this enormous error.
You must review every client’s estate documents to catch errors like this to save your clients hundreds of thousands of dollars—if not millions.
As an advisor, you need to have these conversations with your clients before they pass while you can still correct mistakes in estate documents. Once a client has died, it’s impossible to make any changes.
Clients will get conflicting information from many sources: their CPA, attorney, banker, the media, the next-door neighbor, and even you as their financial advisor.
Every professional in your client’s life will ask different questions, and your clients will unintentionally give different versions of their stories, so you must become their first point of contact.
You want to be the person your clients turn to whenever they need advice.
That relationship will develop when you learn to ask the right questions, shut up, and listen to their answers.
All your client wants is to be heard and understood. It’s your job to discover where your client’s heart lies and create a plan to make it happen.
Don’t be a B-Level Advisor
Regarding estate planning, rookies will ask how much money should go where. But that question doesn’t deliver any value.
Let’s say you have a client who bought enough life insurance to give each of her grandchildren a million dollars. Your client’s 18-year-old grandchild would be handed an enormous amount of money if that client were to die suddenly.
What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things.
We’ve all heard about good kids who blew their inheritance on fancy cars, extravagant vacations, and even drugs. Ultimately, lives get ruined and families torn apart because no one was prepared for the massive payout.
Instead of asking, “Who gets how much?” you should be digging deeper:
What do you want this money to do for your children?
Don’t focus on the amount of money, but rather what the money can do. Passing down a massive inheritance to a child or grandchild who isn’t ready will have the same fallout as many lottery winners.
As we’ve already discussed, you know that giving 18-year-old Jimmy a million dollars is a dumb idea, but you can’t be so blunt with your clients.
Instead, guide them into seeing their folly by asking, “If we give Jimmy a million dollars, what could go wrong? Have you seen what happens when someone wins the lottery, and they aren’t prepared?”
Then, sit back while your client works it out for themselves. They’ve heard the horror stories, and they’ll realize that giving a million dollars to a young person isn’t a good idea.
You can follow up with more questions like:
How can we get this money to your family so they can use it how you want them to?
How can this money benefit your family in the way you intend?
When you dig down a little deeper, you’ll direct your clients as they find the answers they need for themselves.
Don’t forget, as you listen more and talk less, the better off you’ll be. Your clients will tell you what they want if you give them the opportunity.
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