Helping Clients Plan From the Heart – Beyond Money in Estate Planning
By: Christopher Klug – International Estate Planning Attorney, Washington DC
Many clients and advisors think of estate planning as a logistical process designed to reduce taxes, avoid court, and protect assets. Of course, proper planning does enhance the security of their families and assets, but estate planning is actually much more.
Although we write frequently to you about the tax, asset protection, and court-avoiding benefits of estate planning, the process can also be an expression of love, hopes, dreams, and goals for your clients’ loved ones. There are a number of ways your clients can pass on their legacy to their heirs through archival projects, incentivized trusts, charitable contributions, and more. By highlighting and helping deliver on the human side of estate planning, you can strengthen client relationships and increase retention, build a stable base of long-term retention of assets under management, and become known in your community as an advisor that cares about more than just the numbers.
Telling their story
Your clients may not realize that a will or trust can do more than just provide for the distribution of their assets. In their estate planning documents, they can specifically reference and provide context for important family artifacts left behind. These family artifacts include audio or video recordings, collections of notebooks or letters, photo albums, and sentimentally-valuable heirlooms. Clients can then pass down the physical items along with the personal and family significance of the items.
By designating who will be the caretaker of important family items and sharing “final messages” with the family through a video or letter, estate plans can serve as a sort of time capsule distilling the views and values your clients wish to be remembered for. By facilitating the conversation about the client’s legacy, you’ll strengthen your relationship with them and their families, leading to a greater intergenerational bond that will serve all parties in the long run.
Incentivizing values and sharing wisdom
In addition to using estate planning to share the family story and history, clients can also incorporate core interests and beliefs into their estate plans. Many clients wish to pass along values like responsibility, dedication, or perseverance, while discouraging or minimizing the risk of so-called “affluenza.” There are a variety of specific estate planning strategies that can incentivize certain life paths for their beneficiaries, empowering your clients to pass along values and wisdom alongside wealth.
Facilitating personal expression for your clients creates a tremendous relationship building opportunity. What are their beliefs about the best ways to approach wealth? What are their hopes and dreams for the future lives of their beneficiaries? What are some struggles they have overcome on their path to success that may guide beneficiaries?
Estate planning need not be dry and unemotional. Revealing the potential for personal expression in their planning is a great way to build trust and loyalty with your clients and their families. This type of expression, when backed with some of the strategies discussed below, provides you with the opportunity to deepen relationships with every generation of the family.
Just talking about values is one thing. For the plan to achieve the client’s legacy goals, it must be backed with a sound legal and financial structure. Many options exist, depending on the needs of the client. For example, an educational trust establishes funds for children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren to pursue higher learning. An incentive trust can ensure disbursements only under certain conditions, such as a beneficiary keeping a full-time job or performing a certain type of work your clients want to encourage. For those clients that are philanthropically minded, there are many charitable planning options, ranging from charitable trusts, donor advised funds, or private foundations. Although the 2017 tax reform reduced the overall tax incentive for charitable giving for many clients, using charitable planning is a great way for clients to keep their legacies alive by setting aside certain assets to support causes that mean a lot to them.
Expressing their hopes
In addition to helping your clients decide how they’d like to pass their values on through their estate plan, you can also remind them that they have the freedom to decide how they’d like their life to be celebrated. It’s often overlooked when clients consider the components in their plans because the focus is so often on taxes, asset preservation and protection, but their visions for their funeral service and memorials can also be included in their plans.
As we’ve discussed, estate planning isn’t only estate tax planning or about assets and liabilities. Connecting with the purpose behind planning results in greater client retention and engagement and an opportunity to bond with the next generation that will inherit wealth. Give us a call today so we can strategize the best approaches to take with your clients in exploring and developing the human side of their estate plans.
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