Estate Planning is a Team Sport

Often when I meet with new clients, I discover that many like to do things by themselves.  By investing online at E-Trade or using Turbo Tax in lieu of a CPA for their tax returns, they believe they are saving time and not “wasting” money.  Purchase insurance or an IRA without an agent?  Easy to do.  And through extensive marketing of sites such as Legal Zoom, you can now download a will, trust, and advance legal directives.  Why hire someone when you can do it by yourself, for less?

As inexpensive and efficient as these sources can be, they all lack a very important element: counseling.  Estate planning and decisions regarding taxes, investments, insurance and disability are daunting and complex.  Knowing what you don’t know is critical.

One way to keep you on track as your world changes is to build a “team” of professionals who can offer real financial and legal counseling.

Who are the members of your team and how do you choose them?  Your team members may be a CPA, financial planner, attorney, banker, stockbroker and perhaps an insurance advisor.

The first step in selecting a professional may be a recommendation by a friend, colleague or an existing member of your team.  No matter who may refer you, it is important to do your own independent research.  Schedule a consultation.  Ask questions.  Check qualifications.  There is never a substitute for experience and competence, but also consider if this is someone you feel comfortable with.  Your goal is a long-term relationship.

When it comes to estate planning, a qualified estate planning attorney offers more than simply producing documents for your signature.  Their value is in the counsel they provide.  While you can save money in the short term using an online service, or even an attorney who dabbles in estate planning, your heirs may be left to clean up mistakes that may have been made.  Is that a risk you are willing to take?

Are there any other factors you should consider?  One issue currently getting a lot of attention is the term “financial advisor,” commonly used by stockbrokers, insurance agents or someone who sells mutual funds or annuities.  Actually, anyone can add that title to their name, and it does not make them an expert.  A Certified Financial Planner (CFP) however, is a positive indicator that you will be provided with objective financial guidance.  But even those with the CFP designation may not be a good fit for you.  Do your research.

A basic rule of estate planning is thinking about how your loved ones will handle their financial affairs after you are gone.  Consider assembling a team to provide consistent, reliable and supportive counsel and advice to you now, and then to assist and guide your loved ones later.

Life can change in an instant.  What are you waiting for?