How To Get Involved In Your Clients’ Estate Planning

Envestnet Group President Explains The Benefits Of Advisors Engaging In Estate Planning, Addressing Client Emotions, Common Barriers And Ways To Get Involved

Julius Buchanan, Editor in Chief, Wealth Solutions Report

Most of us are in the habit of saying, “if I die,” as if we might somehow evade our final day, and many advisors’ clients have the same habit of speech. It may not be the most cheerful thought, but estate planning is a field that advisors can explore as a way to not only serve clients better but also build relationships with their clients’ heirs and increase client loyalty.

The expansion of your business to participating in clients’ estate planning requires the right resources and an emotionally sensitive approach, but it can be worth it for both advisors and clients. To understand the right approach, we spoke with Rose Palazzo, Group President of Envestnet Financial Planning, which includes Envestnet’s MoneyGuide division, a provider of financial planning software for advisors.

We asked Palazzo about reasons why advisors don’t do estate planning for their clients, how estate planning helps clients of all wealth levels, addressing client emotions regarding mortality and how to get started with estate planning for clients.

WSR: How many advisors are doing estate planning for their clients? What are the typical reasons they don’t? How are those barriers overcome?

Palazzo: Research indicates that 67% of individuals don’t have an estate plan. Engaging in estate planning requires that financial advisors extend their services beyond investment management. It also requires financial advisors to engage clients in conversations that might be more emotionally sensitive and involve family dynamics that they may not have addressed previously.

There are many resources available to financial advisors that can help them become proficient in these topics. Many firms provide resources for their financial advisors to support them in these discussions including education or other support, such as internal specialists.

Establishing strategic partnerships with estate planning attorneys can also help in making this part of a financial advisors’ practice. Pursuing a designation like the CFP can help financial advisors to increase their proficiency with estate planning.

Lastly, many advancements in technology specifically created to address these topics can assist financial advisors in providing these services and facilitating estate planning discussions with clients. For example, the latest enhancement to the MoneyGuide Platform incorporates estate planning capabilities and includes integration that allows financial advisors to help execute estate plans through a network of estate planning attorneys.

WSR: Is estate planning only useful for high net worth clients? Can mass affluents, HENRYs or others find benefits in estate planning? Can they find benefits from estate planning even if they’re below the tax threshold?

Palazzo: A common misconception is that estate planning is only useful for high net worth individuals. Many people believe that if their wealth doesn’t meet a certain threshold, if they don’t have children or if they are not married, they may not need an estate plan.

Estate planning is important at all wealth levels – it allows individuals to ensure that the distribution of their estate is done according to their wishes and helps to avoid unnecessary additional stress for loved ones.

A proper estate plan also allows individuals to establish directives for who should care for children, ensure that future medical care and financial needs are addressed according to their wishes in the event of a decline in health, and provide for end-of-life directives.

WSR: Are there emotional and family sensitivities around estate planning that prevent clients from moving forward? How do you address the emotional side of estate planning?

Palazzo: For many individuals, conversations around estate planning can be emotional, forcing people to face the thought of their own mortality or potential health decline. Financial advisors can be critically important in helping clients broach these topics.

It can be helpful to refocus these conversations on the peace of mind that comes from having a plan in place to ensure their wishes are carried out and helping loved ones avoid unnecessary additional stress in the event of their death or incapacitation. In addition, engaging family members as part of the discussion early can help to alleviate stress and create relationships with the family.

WSR: If the client already has an estate plan through another service, legal or otherwise, what can the advisor do to get involved with the plan?

Financial advisors play an important role

Palazzo: Financial advisors play an important role in estate planning as it includes the management of wealth over a lifetime. Many financial advisors work closely with their client’s estate planning attorney to help address estate planning needs.

Financial advisors can review the elements of estate plans that are already in place and add value to their clients by evaluating estate planning documents to determine if they are complete or require updating, ensuring beneficiaries for accounts are established and updated if necessary, updating financial plans to represent all of the assets included in their estate plans, and prompting clients to revisit estate plans as their client’s situation changes.

Julius Buchanan, Editor in Chief at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at jbuchanan@wealthsolutionsreport.com.

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