Estate planning has become a routine and valued part of the advice offered by financial planners today. As you work with clients particularly on their post-retirement financial planning needs, the questions and attention inevitably turn to what happens with the balance of wealth at death.
Of course the strategies that you advise about don’t commence at that point in the client’s life – they begin now as you advise post retirement structures that enable easier and more tax efficient routes of wealth transfer, use of the Small Gift Exemption and suitable life assurance structures. Some financial planners are also well versed in the use of trusts etc. to further optimise wealth transfer strategies.
While accountants or solicitors may have knowledge in some aspects of these areas, it is the financial planner that really does the heavy lifting when it comes to personal wealth transfer and estate planning. You are the person that your client relies upon most to get the most effective and tax efficient structures in place.
Well-structured estate planning by financial planners used to be a point of differentiation belonging to some advisers. However this has now become more mainstream and expected by clients. So how do you stand out from the crowd now?
One route is to increase the areas that you advise upon or indeed have formal partnerships with other relevant professionals to advise on a broader range of areas around death and “having your affairs in order”. For each of these areas, it’s not enough for it to be a throwaway remark to your client, “Oh by the way you should consider putting XYZ in place”. Instead you should develop material around these areas that will really educate your clients and set out for them the importance of actively following through on your suggestions. The types of areas you might consider include,
It’s very easy to remind every client that they should have a will in place. Everyone knows this, but lots of people don’t know why! Set out for clients the importance of having a will and the actual implications of not having one in place. Potentially use case studies of the difficulties other clients have experienced where wills were not in place and some of the issues that arose. Be the expert that triggers action by your client – to go to their solicitor (or your partnership solicitor) to get a will in place.
Enduring Power of Attorney
Similar to the need for a will, an EPOA is needed in case your client should lose their mental capacity in the future to make sound decisions on their own behalf. Levels of dementia are increasing in line with our ageing population. A client losing their ability to make sound financial decisions could tie their money up and make life very difficult for family members trying to look after them. It also could undermine the execution of intended financial strategies. Again clearly setting out the reasons for effecting an EPOA and also potentially having case studies of where one was / was not in place could add a lot of value to clients. And then point them to a professional who will help them implement your advice.
Do your client and their spouse / partner have separate bank accounts? Who can sign off on bank transactions for their business? What would happen in the event of the sudden death of the business owner / main bank account holder at home? Situations arise frequently where funds are frozen on death, causing immense hardship to a surviving spouse, family members or indeed difficulties for business partners.
Talk to your clients about how their bank accounts are structured, who has access to them and who can legally access funds in the event of death. Again, rather than this being a throwaway conversation, be in a position to offer structured, written advice to your clients. Again, this may guide them towards their accountant in relation to business bank accounts or to their bank branch to discuss their personal banking arrangements. But you can be the catalyst that gets them thinking about this important area.
A relatively new area and not one I’m suggesting that you necessarily need to be an expert in, but it is an area that you can get your client thinking about. It may be a conversation that you are guiding them to have with their solicitor or even a trusted friend.
What will happen to their personal email account on their death? What about their Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter / Instagram accounts – will these just remain there? Or will they be closed down and will there be a message posted before doing so? What about being able to access all their photographs and files that are in cloud storage? What about all those other online accounts – who doesn’t have an Amazon account or a Paypal account? Should someone be able to access your phone contacts and get access to your various devices? Where are all of your passwords stored and accessible if so?
Lots of questions that you cannot answer. But these are questions we all need to consider today. Your advice may be as simple as suggesting to clients that they identify a trusted family member / friends who can look after these affairs at the appropriate time.
Estate planning can mean a lot more than financial solutions. Are you ready to expand your conversations around end of life planning?