An executor planning event serves client, generates referrals

By Skip Rapp

Executor's Resource

Last month, I introduced a concept called "executor planning," where you work with clients to get their estates organized and establish productive, meaningful relationships with the family member who one day will be responsible for settling the estate. Remember, family members -- spouses, adult children and siblings -- are far more likely than professionals to be selected for this role. Think not only of who will be your clients' executors or personal representatives, but also whether your client will serve in the role for an aging parent or relative.

Expanding your service offering today to address this issue has short- and long-term business benefits by way of additional product and service sales, stickier assets and the opportunity to generate referrals to new family members.

But what's the best way to efficiently and effectively address this need for your most important clients? Consider starting with a group educational workshop on executor planning. Personally, I use a program that has been designed for client delivery by the financial advisors with whom I choose to work. Here's how to design something similar for your clients.

The goal: Host an event that draws rave reviews from your clients and demonstrates your expertise and quality of professional contacts, while generating a deep amount of trust, which leads to referrals.

Advanced logistics: Plan a two-hour event on an evening or Saturday morning for 10 to 15 of your top clients. Send invitations about a month in advance and ask clients to attend with the family member who will be their future executor (trustee, or personal representative, depending upon the state in which you live). Select and reserve a meeting room that is large enough to comfortably hold your audience, but still intimate as to accommodate small break-out group conversation. Plan to serve snacks and refreshments, but keep in mind that you're going to be asking your attendees to roll up their sleeves and participate. Invite the estate planning attorney, with whom you typically work and refer, to attend as a co-speaker.

The presentation: To allow sufficient time (approximately 15 minutes) for pre-presentation chit-chat, and late comers, as well as a question and answer session (approximately 15 minutes) at the end, plan to spend only 90 minutes of the two-hour workshop delivering your content. Divide your time accordingly:
  • Welcome, introductions and objectives for the session -- 10 minutes

  • Overview of the estate settlement process -- 20 minutes

  • The role of an executor or personal representative -- 20 minutes

  • Creating an inventory of your estate and legacy -- 40 minutes
The primary purpose in discussing the estate settlement process and the role of an executor or personal representative is to set the stage for what the family member who attended with your client will likely have to do in the future. It also lays the foundation for action today through organizing the legal, financial, personal, biographical and practical issues associated with the estate and legacy.

The tone you use is important, as the objective is to empower the client and his or her family member with the right information and resources, and demonstrate the value of a planning process with you and the estate planning attorney.

The first 50 minutes of this presentation will take the shape of you delivering information along with the estate planning attorney; however, in the last 40 minutes of the session, your role should turn to that of a facilitator. You'll lead your clients and their family members through an interactive discussion with each other to create an inventory of their estates and legacies.

Here's how to accomplish this task. Spend 10 minutes each on the topics of estate documents, financials, family legacy and instructions. In each area, have your client and their future executor start to document what they have, where it's located and whom to contact for more information. Help them discuss:
  • Estate documents. Wills, trust agreements, powers-of-attorney, medical directives, etc. Where are these important documents located? Identify gaps as action items to be addressed after the workshop.

  • Financials. Checking and savings accounts, credit cards and other liabilities, insurance policies, retirement assets, real estate, items of personal importance. Again, where is paperwork for the accounts housed? Who should be contacted?

  • Family legacy. Stories, pictures, videos, heirlooms, ancestry information, along with contact information. What are the important milestones that your client is proud of and wants to preserve? What are the stories behind the family heirlooms? Who are the important professionals who serve the family? Which family members and friends should be contacted in case of an emergency?

  • Instructions. Personal values and wishes, funeral instructions, charitable preferences, etc. What's important to your client and how should things be handled?
It's important to remember that in this last portion of the workshop, you are the facilitator whose role is to get the client and family member talking. While 10 minutes in each area is not nearly enough time to conduct an exhaustive discovery process, it breaks the ice and achieves some tangible results that your client and his or her family member are unlikely to have done on their own. It also becomes the basis for identifying action plans and next steps.

The benefits for your client: There are a number of studies that demonstrate that general public awareness about what happens during settlement and the role of an executor is extremely low. In addition, open communication between family members on this topic is greatly lacking.

Since estates that are in disarray are more difficult and expensive to settle, you'll be providing an invaluable service to your clients by helping them start the conversation in a non-threatening, administratively-oriented way. At the same time, you'll achieve an enhanced level of trust through demonstrating your thoughtfulness, expertise, quality of professional connections and commitment to your client and their family.

This type of executor planning workshop gives you a starting point from which to have regular conversations with your client over time, ultimately helping them address the practical aspects of their estate in a way that could save money and heartache at the time of settlement. Besides expanding your service offering to meet this sorely unmet need, you'll likely have the opportunity to manage more assets, reduce inheritor attrition and most importantly, gain new referrals.

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