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7 Do’s and Don’ts of Collaborating with Estate Planning Attorneys

Financial planners are uniquely suited to be the quarterback of the estate planning process and can motivate clients to do estate planning with an attorney. But planners must be careful to understand that they are not the experts in estate planning and should normally defer to the expertise of the estate planning attorney.

As an estate planning attorney who works mostly with financial planners with their clients, I have spoken on the topic of successfully working with estate attorneys to financial advisers, I teach estate planning to people who want to be CFP® professionals, have been the president of an FPA chapter and have been involved in the financial planning community for more than 25 years.

In the past I have been approached by financial planners who want me to draft estate planning documents at their direction, without allowing me to meet or talk to the client.  I have always refused this relationship because they are not collaborations or allowing me to do what is best for the client, but instead the financial planner is treating the estate planning lawyer like a mechanic and is not respecting the a lawyer’s knowledge and experience.

I am also sometimes faced with financial planners who ask me almost immediately what the fee is going to be, as if what I do is not as important as what they do, or that if they are involved in the process, it makes it easier so I should charge less. My typical response is to ask them if they would charge less if I referred a client to them or was involved in the financial planning or investment management process, and that answer is always, “No.”

So, here is my advice to successfully work with good and experienced estate planning attorneys:

1) Do not expect, or even ask, for the estate planning attorney to refer a client to you. Most really good estate planning attorneys get most of their clients from advisers and do not have the ability to refer clients. However, an estate planning attorney who understands and respects the financial planning process should, over time, be able to refer significant financial planning and investment management business to financial planners. In the last year, I have given referrals of clients to financial planners who collectively have about $50 million in assets. Those referrals go to those financial planners with whom I have worked, have met their clients, understand how they work and who respect what I have to bring to the relationship.

2) Do not negotiate a lower fee for your client. It is acceptable to talk fees and fee ranges, but do not say to the estate planning attorney that he should charge less to your clients for any reason.

3) Do come to any meeting you want with the client and the estate planning attorney. Do not work with an estate planning attorney who tells you that you can’t do this

4) If you or your client wants, review the estate planning documents before signing. Have an open and frank discussion with the attorney without the client present about any problems or questions. Do not work with an estate planning attorney who doesn’t want to send you drafts (obviously the client has to agree) or who just discounts any of your comments.

5) Do be the person who drives the implementation of the estate plan. If you do this, you will become more in control of the client, will probably get more work from the client and his friends, and be in the position to do the right thing. So, I rely on the financial planner to help the client re-title assets, change beneficiary designations, etc.

6) Do monitor any estate planning technique to make sure everyone is following the economics. Be in control of the process, the implementation and the follow-up.

7) Do motivate clients to meet with the estate planning attorney. Encourage them to meet with the estate planning attorney initially and when changes are needed.

There are many great estate planning attorneys out there. Financial planners must respect what an estate planner does and the estate planner must respect what a financial planner does. If you are referring your clients to someone who does not respect what you do or how you do it, then find someone else. If the estate planning attorney does not allow you to be part of the process, find someone else.

GaryAltmanThumbGary Altman
Principal Attorney
Altman & Associates
Rockville, Maryland

 

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in our Financial Planning Association’s FPA Connect community as a response to a query about the processes for working with estate attorneys. To contribute to the conversation, visit FPA Connect

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