The estate planning process can be complicated, even daunting. Developing a comprehensive plan will most often require the service of a hand-picked and fine-tuned team of professionals to assist and advise you in the analysis of your financial situation and goals. Assembling and working with an “estate planning team”, where each individual brings advanced knowledge and experience in his or her specific discipline can add actual value to the planning process and make the overall experience more enjoyable as well.
Choosing the Team
Your estate planning team should likely consist of an attorney, whose practice is focused on estate planning, an accountant and a financial advisor. Remember first and foremost, however, that you are the head coach of the team and the driving force in the development of your estate plan. The earlier you determine your own goals and expectations regarding the distribution of your wealth, the less likely you will be overwhelmed by the ideas and suggestions of your professional teammates.
A Trusting Relationship
Each person you choose to become a member of your estate planning team should be someone with whom you can form a relationship built on confidence and trust. Usually, a skilled estate planning attorney or financial planner, with whom you have an established relationship, will assist you in assembling the rest of the team and take on the responsibility of carrying out your instructions. If you do not already have such a trusted advisor, you should research the market for estate planning professionals to find the person best aligned with your personality. A referral from a trusted friend can be a good source.
The Initial Interview
In selecting your team, it is wise to arrange an initial meeting with each prospective advisor in order to interview or screen the person, just as you would any job applicant. It’s important to choose an advisor who has the skills to work effectively in a team environment and enjoys the exceptional work product that can result from collaborating with other team members in effort to reach a common goal. In your meeting, be prepared to ask a series of questions, such as:
- What are your qualifications?
- How long have you been handling matters of this nature?
- How are you compensated for your role?
- How does the estate planning process work?
- How do you view your role as part of an estate planning team?
- Who do you recommend that we engage to assist us in this process?
The Attorney’s Role
Your attorney will educate you on the legal issues and available tax and non-tax alternatives and draft the estate planning documents necessary to meet your goals and objectives.
The Financial Advisor’s Role
Your financial adviser will educate you on the financial aspects of your estate plan, including the preservation and growth of your estate. He or she will also assist in the implementation of the estate plan including any funding or re-titling of assets necessary to meet your estate planning goals.
The Accountant’s Role
The accountant on your team plays an ongoing role in monitoring the income tax aspects of your estate plan. Keep in mind that the income tax is not the same as the estate and gift tax. The first is a tax on the accumulation of your wealth, while the latter is a tax on the transfer of your wealth to another person.
A Team of Professionals
The net result of working with a team of professionals, as opposed to one person who handles everything, is that each participant brings his or her specific knowledge and expertise to the table. The synergy among your team members will provide you with a superior estate plan which in turn may save your family a great deal of money over time. Remember, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.