Choosing a Professional

Estate planning begins and ends with competent professional attorneys versed in estate planning basics. Choosing such an attorney is not easy. Most attorneys in small firms will advertise their ability to do wills—wills present basic business opportunities for the attorney. And, the cost of such wills may be minimal. Don’t be fooled—going to an attorney who doesn’t focus on estate planning is like putting your heart surgery into the hands of a general practitioner. Further, any attorney that offers you a will without also requiring that you discuss powers of attorney, living wills or revocable trusts is not for you. You will indeed spend time with your estate planning attorney—pick someone you trust, someone who will spend time listening to you and someone who will teach you what you need to know.

Financial planning is not something you can ever delegate to someone else without at least some basic knowledge of how it works. This is simply common sense. And, common sense is your best guideline for choosing a financial planning professional. You are looking for an advisor that will help you to structure a plan to maximize your return and minimize your investment risk over the long run. This will be a person with whom you will work over a lifetime. You must trust the person. Trust and confidence go beyond mere credentials, although you must examine and be satisfied with those credentials.

There are a number of advisory sources available to you, from stockbrokers to certified financial planners, chartered financial consultants, independent insurance agents, tax and estate attorneys, and accountants. Word of mouth referral is your best route to choosing the right person for your needs.

Start by networking. Call friends and professionals you know and ask them which advisors they use. Then, with a list of possible choices, interview all the advisor candidates. Spend time with each of them. Ask questions about how they approach their business.

Once you have your list of referrals, call the references, listen, and evaluate. If an advisor is rude, condescending or unresponsive to your questions, cross them off the list. If the advisor takes time to listen to you about your investment needs and values, as well as time to educate you about investments in general and their philosophy about managing your money, listen and evaluate. Your future is in good hands.

Fees for professional advice range but are customarily one to three percent of assets under management. As your assets grow, the fees of the advisor grow. How do you know when your assets have outgrown your own ability to manage them? Maybe you never will be in such a position. But, if your assets will generate fees of at least $10,000 annually, a professional will probably be interested in having you for a client. If time and circumstances are not sufficient to allow you to pay attention to your financial planning results, then consider using a professional.

Remember, nothing takes the place of managing your own money—if you do choose to use an advisor, you are the one that is responsible for managing the advisor. Managing the manager is fine, but never abdicate your responsibility to manage your own money.
Attorneys will usually charge by the hour; however, the trend in law practice is to charge through a fixed fee. That way, both the client and the attorney know what the cost will be—no surprises. The advisor may work with a tax or estates attorney and this will be helpful to you since each of those disciplines are important in structuring a good financial plan.