The three "must address" questions for estate planning peace of mind

By Skip Rapp

Executor's Resource


The largest transfer of wealth in our nation's history is upon us. Throughout the next two decades, more of your clients than ever before will serve as executors for their parent's estates. Like most of us, they either accepted the role without thinking about what it really means, or they won't know about it until their parents pass.

Knowing how time-consuming, frustrating and costly estate settlement can be, this isn't the type of surprise you'll want for your client. Will they be up for the job when the time comes? Helping your client with some smart pre-planning now -- before their parent passes -- will build trust that will cause them to value you in an entirely new light.

Three questions: One phone call or in-person meeting

According to AARP, we know that 22 million Americans are caring for an aging parent. Review your client list and identify the top 10 whom you know are currently dealing with this issue. Next, set up individual meetings, either via phone or in person, and discuss the following three questions. Here's a tip: If your clients are like most of us, they'll likely answer "no" to the majority of these questions.

1. As the future executor for your parent, do you know where to find the following:

a. Final instructions (i.e., funeral arrangements and preferences)
b. Will or trust agreement, and other legal documents (e.g., powers of attorney)
c. A key to residence(s) and the code to the home alarm system
d. Insurance policies, banking accounts and other assets and liabilities
e. A listing of digital assets (passwords for computers and online accounts)
f. Valuables and collectibles
g. Family photo albums and other important personal and heritage information
h. Safe deposit box key(s) and location(s)
i. Contact information for the estate attorney who drafted the will
j. Contact information for other professionals (e.g., you as their financial advisor)
k. Key family members and friends

2. Are you aware of any hidden items of importance in the home or elsewhere?

3. Do you talk with your parent about this information at least once a year or when there are updates?

Identifying areas for pre-planning

Take notes and flag the areas where your client expresses the most discomfort. At this point in the conversation, offer your assistance by asking how you can help.

Depending upon the situation, potential next steps could include:
  • Hosting a joint meeting between your client and their parent at your office, with you as the facilitator.

  • Providing referrals to resources that can assist -- estate attorneys, legacy-related tools or videographers, estate organization services -- with you as quarterback, guiding their way through.

  • Sending your client personalized, periodic educational articles that pertain to a specific topic from your discussion. You or your assistant can easily find these by setting a Google alert for keywords such as "executor," "estate planning," "care giving," etc.

  • Shifting the focus from their parent to your client's estate issues. Often, clients in this situation are so busy thinking of their parents that they forget about getting their own affairs in order.
Getting the discussion started

Every so often, I hear from an advisor who says "I'm an investment person, how do I transition to this type of conversation?" Your focus may be on investments, but you are still a person. You have experiences and stories that can be used as an efficient segue.

Here's a script from an advisor I know who used a personal story to connect with a client who was taking care of their mom:
    Hi client, this is advisor, how are you (e.g., pleasantries, etc.)? Believe it or not, I'm not calling you today about investments.

    I was talking the other day with a close friend of mine whose dad just passed away, and I thought of your situation with your mom. He had been caring for his dad for several years, and just found out that he is the executor.

    While he's been having a tough time navigating the whole estate settlement process, the biggest challenge is that he can't find the important documents. He expressed his frustration to me because here he had many years to talk with his dad about this, but never did.

    Knowing that my friend's experience with estate settlement is the typical experience, I felt compelled to reach out to you. I know this isn't what we normally talk about, but I think it is important enough to warrant your attention.

    Do you know if you are going to be the future executor for your mom? You may or may not have had a discussion regarding her instructions, what to do, and where to find them when the time comes, but I saw something the other day that surprised even me. There were a number of practical details that seem like they could be easily overlooked.

    Would you mind if I shared them with you? Why don't we schedule time for you to come to my office? You don't need to bring anything -- just yourself.

    Because of this recent experience, I'm making a point to reach out to a select few of my most valued clients who are in situations like this. I think there is a lot we can do together to pave the way for an easier transition, whether that is next year or 10 years from now.
You may have your own personal experience, or you can share the experience of this advisor. Either way, plan to make time with your clients who are caregivers. Your investment in them -- addressing this topic in a meaningful, impactful way and providing tangible solutions -- will pay important dividends.

Driving business results

Win number one: Better client service. It takes a lot less time than you think to achieve a level of client service that will differentiate you and your practice from your transaction-focused competitors. Your positive, integral role in easing what most likely is and will be a primary stressor for your client will open the door to deeper discussions on the meaning of wealth for the family -- both financial and sentimental. In addition, you set the stage to serve an ongoing role in making inevitable events transpire in a way that aligns with your clients' desired outcomes.

Win number two: New sales opportunities. If the process is handled correctly, your client will start wondering why their parents' advisor wasn't the one to initiate this type of valuable interaction. In fact, you may find that you can easily earn the business of your clients' parents. Closer to home, you're likely to find opportunities to identify gaps in your clients' portfolios and insurance coverage that need fixing.

As America's population continues to age, the smartest advisors will find points of interconnectivity that can be addressed through proactive stewardship of the client relationship. Those who do stand to gain handsomely as wealth transfers between generations. Will you be one of them?

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