As a seasoned financial advisor, you know your work is about so much more than monitoring the stock market. It all starts with that first meeting with the client – you don’t just ask for information in dollars and cents, but details about their work, the intricacies of their family dynamics, and their vision for their legacy. As you get to know them and their unique situation, you realize that in addition to offering your financial knowledge you are also serving as therapist, confidante, and fortune-teller, helping them navigate present and future challenges and holding them accountable for their decisions. This multifaceted relationship is what makes it possible for you to create a holistic estate plan that reflects their priorities and protects them from everything from tax burdens to the dissolutions of partnerships.
As time goes on, however, you may find yourself checking in with them less frequently – a common pitfall for financial advisors when investments are performing well. There are a variety of life events that can leave the estate open to contestation and have potentially devastating financial and personal consequences. Here are some tips to keep your relationship thriving and your client’s estate plan ironclad.
Invite them to share. Changes in a client’s personal life often prove to be problematic later on; however, they may be unaware of the implications or too caught up in whatever is happening to address them. Common examples include their decision to disinherit an heir with whom they are estranged or place conditions on an inheritance if the heir has substance abuse or legal issues. It would be impossible, not to mention inappropriate, for you to keep tabs everything; however, reaching out periodically to see how your client is doing will remind them that you care, and of their responsibility to keep you in the loop. The key here is to strike a balance – you want to keep the tone of these communications informal and friendly while also eliciting information you need to know.
Continue educating them. At the beginning of your relationship you probably explained to your client that their estate plan is a living document, subject to change depending on a variety of things. They expect any financial advisor to address shifting tax laws and other legislation; sharing relevant content (i.e. articles and studies) will separate you from the herd and will keep the consequences of events like marriage and divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, or the death of an heir or trust administrator top of mind.
Make saying in touch easy for them. There are a variety of digital tools that make financial decisions easier to discuss and implement; however, not every client will be ready to use them. Some may be leery of electronically signing a downloaded document, while others may embrace all-in-one solutions that allow them to share confidential information and complete a variety of tasks from their mobile phones. Teaching them the benefits of such tools can help them take ownership of their financial decisions, and be more proactive about engaging you, while learning how to create a holistic estate plan. The key is to meet each client where they stand – even if it means picking up the phone – and then helping them step out of their comfort zone.
When life get busy, it’s easy to lose touch with clients, especially if there are no fires to put out. By the same token, you cannot assume you will be the first phone call they make when their lives change. In fact, studies show that many people, including HNWI, neglect to update their estate plan until it is too late. Remember, an empowered client is a satisfied client. Maintaining a constant flow of communication will allow you to focus on your primary goal – building and maintaining their wealth for generations to come.