During a recent meeting with a business owner client who was referred to me, I began the meeting by asking him a simple question, “If you did not make it home from my office today, will the current planning that you have done to date ensure that your business, your employees, and most importantly your family will be well taken care of?” As expected, I was greeted by a minute of silence; accompanied with a little squirming in his chair…until finally an answer was uttered…”I am not sure….”
I have spent more than 25 years working with business owners and it still astounds me to learn during an initial discovery meeting, the number of entrepreneurs who do not have a will(s), shareholder agreement; appropriate life insurance or a well thought out estate and/or family business succession plan. I vividly recall another situation where a tax lawyer presented an effective planning strategy to defer a significant capital gains tax liability upon death through the utilization of a Spousal Testamentary Trust. The only issue was that the client’s planning goals were not solely tax driven. This was a second marriage and the client had strong feelings about how he wished his estate to be distributed, without sole regard for tax minimization. The structure that was initially presented was promptly discarded with a mandate to go back to the drawing board. Valuable time was wasted and frustration was created due to the fact that the advisor did not take the time to ask questions regarding the family dynamics and the client’s financial independence and family legacy goals.
If one dared to “google” estate planning one would find countless estate planning checklists, organizers, forms, worksheets, software programmes, questionnaires and kits that boggle the mind. So why is it that with all this information available and assuming the business owner has competent advisors; that he still postpones putting his planning into action? Planning that may in all likelihood result in significant tax savings, family harmony, financial peace of mind and potentially prevent costly litigation.
The reasons surrounding this lack of action are many; no time, cost, perceived complexity, challenging family dynamics, personal issues, to name just a few.
So, how can professionals’ motivate clients to actively engage in the planning process in order to help them make wise choices to protect and control what they have worked so hard to build? I would like to share with you a 4 step process that will enable you to motivate your clients to take the proper steps to begin and complete their planning in order to prevent them from leaving a “mess behind” due to procrastination, confusion and perceived complexity.
1. Identify and Understand a Client’s Values Surrounding their Wealth
Building Wealth and Managing Wealth is not the same thing. Take the time to understand your client’s mindset surrounding their wealth, business and family dynamics. Help them identify their vision and goals as it pertains to financial security, independence and family legacy. Only through deep discovery can one truly gain clarity as to the issues and people that surround the wealth holder before offering effective planning advice. Consider asking thought provoking questions as it relates to what is important to them about money? What are the things that are keeping them awake at night?
2. Engaging All the Professional Advisors Collaboratively
Clear identification of the planning team members and the role that they play in your client’s world will ensure integration of disciplines, minimize potential planning biases and provide an opportunity to share ideas among various professionals to ensure the best possible solutions. Once it is clearly established as to what the business owner wants to achieve and why they want to achieve their planning goals, only then can different solutions be considered. This should be communicated among all disciplines in order to arrive at the best possible solution(s).
3. Decide who will be appointed to co-ordinate the planning to ensure progress, integration and completion in a timely fashion
Many well intentioned plans have been placed on the back burner due to the fact that no one has been designated to act as a quarterback. This oftentimes results in effective planning going off the rails, loss of momentum and progress, with everyone getting busy in their own professional worlds waiting for the client to re-initiate the process.
4. Ensure Continuing Results Management
Events, circumstances and people change during the course of time. Scheduling annual reviews to ensure planning decisions that were implemented in the past are still relevant to changing circumstances and evolving goals may require revisions to Wills, legal agreements, tax structures and insurance. Planning strategies implemented in the past may also become irrelevant due to changes in legislation, personal and business circumstances. The client (in particular business owners and selfemployed professionals) needs to be made aware of the importance of monitoring and reviewing their estate plan in order to ensure that previous planning decisions are still relevant and sustainable.
By taking the time to truly understand your client’s mission, vision, values and goals, and working with other professional advisors in a collaborative approach will more often result in an implemented plan that ensures peace of mind, family legacy, and financial security while strengthening your role as his trusted advisor. So perhaps the next time a client presents approaches you, the advisor with the sole objective of preparing a will, or developing an estate plan, take the time to dig a little deeper and understand the “why” before advising them as to “what” they need. You may find yourself with a more engaged and motivated person ready to step on the gas because he sees the “bigger picture” of his wealth more clearly and will be confident to complete his overall planning in a clearer, effective and timely fashion.
Sandra Pollack, CFP, CLU, Ch.F.C., TEP, FEA
Founder & Principal
Trimaran Financial Ltd