Sixty minutes to a better prepared estate

By Skip Rapp

Executor's Resource


In my last article, I talked about the specific information a client needs to compile for an estate and legacy planning session with you, the advisor. I'm now going to cover the basics of how to conduct that one-hour meeting with your baby boomer clients. We'll focus on boomers because you'll have your best opportunity to drive rollovers in the short term and manage inheritances over the long term with this group.

Reframing the client as executor

Chances are that you have been working with your clients on their estate plans in some capacity. An important and natural extension of that conversation should include assisting your client in their role as the executor for an aging parent or someone close to them.

If you haven't yet broached estate planning with your boomer clients, the best way to thaw things out is to position the discussion around their role as future executors, because the majority of us at one time will be named executor by a family member. Our own research supports that clients are more open to talking about their parents' estates than they are their own. You can direct the conversation to where it needs to be by taking this route.

Advisors who typically refer all estate conversations to the estate planning attorney may not be realizing how much easy opportunity they're giving up. It's true that attorneys are needed to draft legal documents and engineer specific estate outcomes. But as an advisor, outside of referrals, you can provide tremendous value in three important ways -- by setting expectations, reducing intimidation about the process, and taking action to get clients organized and current.

Make the goal of the meeting to educate your client about the critical need for organization in order to make an executor's job easier. While the topic of organization seems obvious, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how eye-opening it is to your boomer clients who haven't served as executor before.

Here's how best to use this 60-minute session:

1) Talk to your client about being an executor (5 minutes): Are they going to be an executor or personal representative, and for whom? Have them tell you about their parents and siblings. If they are married or in a committed relationship, point out the obvious role as spouse or partner. Get a sense for timing.

2) Do a knowledge assessment (10 minutes). Based upon your conversation starter, how much does the client appear to understand about executorships? Take notes -- this is discovery for you as much as it is for them. Observe the comfort level with terminology, the overall process and the typical challenges. Save your notes for future conversation opportunities. Then steer the discussion toward recognizing the need for organization, accessibility and current information. Demonstrate that if the client isn't prepared for the executor assignment, he'll be blindsided by the amount of time, money and effort all of this requires.

End the assessment by asking the client to rank his comfort level with own estate situation.

3. Determine the most productive way to use the rest of meeting. If your client seems most concerned with their future role for an aging parent, follow that path. If they seem uncomfortable with their own estate, go there. If the answer is both, have the client decide which issue to address first. Work into the solution, focusing on creating a consolidated, big-picture reference guide that provides a snapshot of present-day information.

4) Run through the base list of the most important estate documents (10 minutes), such as the will. If they don't have one, make it a take-away for your client. Focus on identifying what they do have, where it's located and who the contact person is.

5) Talk about financials (20 minutes). Make a list starting with accounts you manage or advise. What else does your client have? Talk about sources of income, benefits and items of importance. Where is any underlying documentation located and who is the contact person to discuss closing and transfer? As their advisor, you should be up on most of this; however, expect clients to reveal other assets or anticipated inheritances. Don't plan to get through it all in this first meeting. Make it your goal to cover the basics so they leave with a real sense of comfort both with any future action needed and your ability to assist them in that action.

6) Plan to help your client check for inconsistencies with beneficiary forms or titles on certain accounts (10 minutes). This is particularly important if they recently experienced any life changes, regardless if they have a will. Cover subtopics like education funding or long term care as they fit your specialty.

7) Close with realistic action items (5 minutes). Reaffirm that you are going to help with this ongoing basis. Emphasize that not everything will happen at once. Repeat any client takeaways. For instance, if there is no will, your client's first assignment is to make one.

This is where you can be your client's go-to resource for everything from referring him to an estate planning attorney, to consolidating accounts, archiving documents or helping with his legacy. Finally, make the information disaster-proof and easily accessible for ongoing updates and use by the executor. An online environment with regular backups and bank-like security is best.

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