What will happen to your assets when you die? This may not be a fun question to contemplate, but it is an important one, and one a financial advisor who specializes in estate planning won’t let you ignore.
“When investors think about an estate plan, they may only think about a set of legal documents,” says Marguerite Weese, chief operating officer of Emerald Family Office & Advisory and national director of Family Legacy Strategies at Wilmington Trust. “However, estate planning encompasses everything from the accumulation and preservation of wealth to the spend-down and the ultimate transfer of one’s assets.”
Within your estate plan, you’re likely to have certain goals you want to achieve, she says. You may want to ensure you leave your son enough money to pay for your granddaughter’s education, or to support a charitable cause. A financial advisor’s expertise and estate planning tools can help you create an estate plan that will meet all of your goals. Here are some points to consider as you begin your search:
- What does an estate planner do?
- How to find a financial advisor for estate planning.
- What to look for in a financial advisor for estate planning.
What Does an Estate Planner Do?
An estate planner helps you create a plan for how your assets will be handled after you pass away, but estate planning is far more involved than a one-and-done.
“Since investor’s lives are dynamic, their financial and estate planning goals will need to adapt over time,” Weese says. It’s an estate planner’s job to ensure your estate plan fits both your current and future needs, and to help you navigate any changes along the way — both expected and unexpected.
“A key part of effective estate planning is consolidating your financial picture with your estate strategy, says Benjamin Trujillo, J.D., LL.M, senior advisor at the Compardo, Wienstroer, Conrad & Janes (CWCJ) office at Moneta. “Involving an advisor when initially contemplating estate planning is paramount to considering all of the potential strategies and implications of each, and far more likely to produce a successful result.”
Richard Ricciardi, partner at Powell, Jackman, Stevens & Ricciardi, who has a Master of Laws degree in estate planning and elder law, believes a financial advisor should do more than just sell or manage investments. The advisor should also be able to explain how the different options for long-term care and life and health insurance fit into your overall plan.
“These investment vehicles can be important to a person’s financial stability in the future and strengthen a plan against the risk of catastrophic loss,” Ricciardi says.
How to Find a Financial Advisor for Estate Planning
The natural place to begin looking for a financial advisor to help with estate planning is online. Google and sites like the U.S. News & World Report Financial Advisor search tool can help you identify local advisors, but the results can quickly get overwhelming. Because of this, Weese suggests starting your search by asking for recommendations instead.
“Ask similarly situated friends and family who they use,” she says. Similarly situated is key here. She says to ask people whose current financial situation most closely reflects your own to get the most suitable recommendations.
For instance, if you’re a doctor who owns your own practice, asking other doctors for recommendations gives you the best chance of finding an advisor who understands your unique situation, she says.
“Having a personal reference can be a great way to start because a certain level of vetting has already occurred and there is an opportunity for a warm introduction,” Weese adds.
You can also ask other professionals you work with for recommendations. Your accountant or attorney could be a good source of referrals. “This is helpful because those advisors have their own network of professionals they routinely encounter,” Weese says. “It may be beneficial for your advisors to collaborate with each other because you want to have a comprehensive plan that has all of your advisors aligned and communicating to ensure everyone is working toward the same goals.”
Don’t settle for the first advisor recommendation you’re given. While recommendations can be a great place to start, you still need to do your own due diligence to make sure the advisor is the right fit for you. Weese suggests preparing a list of questions to ask, such as:
- How many clients does the advisor have?
- What is the financial profile of the advisor’s typical client?
- What tools are at the advisor’s disposal to help them address your estate and financial planning goals?
What to Look for in a Financial Advisor for Estate Planning
You should interview several advisors before choosing someone to work with you. “When looking for an estate planner, I would suggest an attorney who specializes in wills, trusts and estates, and makes that their primary practice,” Ricciardi says.
You can identify an advisor’s expertise by the degrees and designations they hold. For instance, the accredited estate planner, or AEP, designation provided by the National Association of Estate Planners & Councils (NAEPC) is a graduate-level degree for professionals who specialize in estate planning. Other estate planning designations include the chartered trust and estate planner (CTEP) and certified trust and fiduciary advisor (CTFA).
Look at what organizations the advisor is affiliated with and if he or she publishes any thought leadership papers or speaks at professional conferences about estate planning, Weese says. “This can be an indicator that they keep up with the latest trends in estate planning and are respected in their field.”
“The estate planner should be able to clearly explain the differences between wills and trusts and the necessity for other documents, which help plan for either incapacity or death,” Ricciardi says.
He says clients will often come into his office with estate plans that are too complicated for the client’s situation and difficult to understand. If an advisor can’t explain each element of your estate plan in easy-to-understand terms and pinpoint why it’s necessary, look for another advisor.
Trujillo says to look for a financial advisor who takes a holistic approach to your situation. “Try to identify someone who has experience in estate planning or works regularly with attorneys,” he says. “Estate planning should be discussed with the same importance as your investments, because building your wealth is as important as protecting it so that it will get to the people and organizations you want, and not be lost in avoidable taxes or misspent by heirs.”