As a financial advisor, your first meeting with new estate planning clients is crucial: it sets the tone for your relationship and, in many ways, lays the foundations for estate planning success. It'll help you build closer, more dynamic relationships with clients, as well as helping you to manage, review and update their estate plans.
To make the most of the opportunities offered by these kick-off meetings, you need to ask the right questions.
Those questions should focus on four areas: understanding your client’s financial goals; quantifying and assessing their estate; understanding their familial relationships; and gauging their values.
In this article
- Understanding your client’s goals
- Assessing your client’s knowledge of estate planning
- Family relationships
- Health and lifestyle
- Values, fears and attitudes
Before your first client meeting
Before you meet with your client to discuss their needs and goals, it’s worth compiling a full inventory of their estate.
To gather this information, you can ask your client to fill in a form ahead of your first meeting. It can include:
- Personal information of the client — name, date of birth, address
- Employment details
- Spouse’s personal information
- Names and dates of births of children
- A list of assets and their values
With this information to hand, you can spend your face-to-face time understanding their motivations, goals and relationships.
Questions to ask new clients about estate planning
With a clear understanding of the client’s estate, your first face-to-face meeting is an opportunity to get to know them personally.
Focus your questions on the client’s goals, relationships, values, fears and attitudes. It’s this deeper understanding of your client’s needs and frustrations that will make the difference between a serviceable estate plan and a perfect one.
Understanding your client’s estate planning and financial goals
There are many reasons to make an estate plan.
Perhaps your client has recently inherited a large amount of money and wants to ensure it’s left to the right people.
Or maybe they’ve recently married into a blended family and need to review their estate plan.
Or maybe they’ve recently been diagnosed with a serious health condition and want to make sure their family is well provided for.
It’s essential to understand what your client is trying to achieve by making an estate plan. You can ask:
1. Why are you making an estate plan?
2. What are your financial goals for the next 12 months?
3. What are your financial goals for the next 5 years?
4. Do you have any concerns about estate planning?
5. Would you say you’re “on track” financially?
6. What’s your biggest financial concern?
7. What are you looking for in a financial advisor?
Assessing your client’s knowledge of their estate and financial plans
8. Have you made an estate plan before?
- How has your estate changed since you last made an estate plan? (For example, have they purchase new assets, inherited money, had children or changed marital status)
9. How would you describe your knowledge of estate planning options?
- Are there any concepts or terminology you’re particularly unclear about?
- Are you aware of the specific laws in your state that might affect your estate plan?
10. Have you set up any trusts?
- Which assets did you place in that trust?
11. Do you own a business?
- What kind of business is it?
- What ownership stake do you have?
- What’s your relationship with the other owners?
- Do you have a succession plan in place for your business?
12. Have you taken out life insurance?
13. Do your life insurance policies, bank accounts and retirement accounts have named beneficiaries?
- Who are the named beneficiaries?
14. Who would inherit your assets?
- Do you have any concerns about your beneficiaries? For example, do you worry that they might use their inheritance unwisely?
15. Do you have a living will?
- What wishes have you expressed in your living will?
- Do you have an appointed power of attorney for medical decisions?
16. Do you support any charities?
- How do you support them? How much money do you donate to them?
17. Do you expect to receive any large lump sums of money?
Be ready to do some digging on this question. Lump sums could include everything from inheritance to downsizing to dividends.
18. Have you ever declared bankruptcy or been sued?
(This will help identify if there are any likely creditors who might have a claim against the estate)
19. Have you ever served as an executor to a will?
- For whom did you serve as executor?
- How did you find the process? What did you find particularly difficult or frustrating?
The goal here is to gauge your client’s overall knowledge of estate planning, their experience with probate, and any frustrations or concerns they have with the estate planning process as a result.
20. Do you plan to make any substantial gifts to family members during your lifetime?
- What assets do you plan to give?
- What’s the total value of those assets?
- To whom do you plan to make the gifts?
21. How well do you feel you understand the tax you would pay on your estate if you died tomorrow?
22. How often will you review your estate plan?
If your client hasn’t already provided a list of their existing assets (and the value of those assets), you can also ask questions like:
- Do you own shares or equity in any businesses?
- Do you have life insurance?
- Do you have a retirement account?
- What bank accounts do you have?
- What are the most valuable items you own?
Family relationships are, of course, complex, and those nuances can play a big role in how you structure a client’s estate plan.
For example: if your client doesn’t trust their children to spend money wisely, then a trust may be a better option than simply leaving cash as part of a will, because it can provide a higher level of control as to how or when the money is spent.
Depending on their estate planning knowledge, your client’s may not be aware of the options available to them, so it’s up to you as a financial advisor to recommend the right provisions based on their answers to these questions.
23. Are you married?
- How long have you been married?
- How would you describe your relationship with your spouse?
- How would you describe your spouse’s relationship with your parents?
As with many questions about family relationships, the goal here is to anticipate any disagreements or disputes over the estate plan in the event of your client’s death.
- How would you feel if your spouse remarried after your death?
- Do you and your spouse have clearly defined property and personal wealth, or are most of your assets combined?
- Do you have any financial conflicts or repeated disagreements with your partner?
- How did you meet your spouse?
24. Have you ever been divorced?
- How would you describe your relationship with your former spouse?
Children (and grandchildren)
25. Do you have children?
- How many children do you have?
- How old are your children? (Estate planning for clients with minor children presents its own challenges and considerations.)
- What do your children do for a living?
- Are your children married or in long-term relationships?
- How would you describe your relationship with your children’s long-term partner(s)?
The goal here is to gauge whether your client would be happy leaving assets to their children that could then be split equally with their children’s partners in case of divorce or breakup.
- How would you describe your relationship with your children?
- Are your children independently “wealthy”?
- If not, to what extent do you believe their financial future depends on the wealth they inherit from you?
- Have any of your children been declared bankrupt?
- Do you talk about your finances and wealth with your children?
- If not, why not?
- Have you set any expectations or made any promises regarding your childrens’ inheritance?
- If so, what are they? If not, why not?
- Would you divide your estate equally among your children?
- Would you trust your children to spend their inheritance wisely?
- If not, why not?
- If you died, who would you want to raise your children?
26. Do you have any children who aren’t biologically related to you?
- How would you describe your relationship with them?
- How long have they been part of your family?
- Where would they fit into your estate plan? Would you want them to get an equal inheritance to those of your biological children?
- If not, why not?
27. Do you have grandchildren?
- How would you describe your relationship with your grandchildren?
- Is it important that your estate provides specifically for your grandchildren?
28. Do you have siblings?
- How would you describe your relationship with them?
29. Are either or both of your parents still alive?
- How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
- Have you ever talked about their wealth and estate plans? Do you know what you’d be likely to inherit when they die?
30. Are any of your grandparents still alive?
- If so, have you ever talked about their wealth and estate plans? Do you know what you’d be likely to inherit when they die?
31. Are any of your family members (other than minor children) dependent on you financially?
32. Who would you appoint as the executor of your estate?
- Why would you choose them?
33. If you became too ill to make decisions about your healthcare, who would you want to make those decisions on your behalf?
- Why them?
34. Do you have pets?
- Who would look after your pet(s) if you died?
35. Is there anybody else you’re financially responsible for?
- Can you see that changing during your lifetime?
36. Would you expect anyone to contest your will?
Health and lifestyle
Understanding your client’s lifestyle and health can help you recommend the most efficient estate planning provisions.
Some clients will be happy to tie up their wealth to minimize their taxes. Particularly if, for example, they’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness.
Other clients will have ambitious plans for a long retirement, in which case liquidity will be an important consideration.
37. How would you describe your health?
38. To what extent is your health a factor in your decision to make an estate plan?
39. What would you want your retirement to be like?
40. How would you describe your attitude to spending money?
41. Do you plan to make any significant purchases in the next year or so? Cars, big vacations etc.
Values, fears and attitudes
Finally, there are your client’s values — the principles and beliefs that shape their attitude to wealth and what to do with it. These can vary dramatically, particularly across age groups, with research showing that millennials in particular have very different attitudes to money when compared with previous generations.
You can use these values to shape their estate plan. For example, if your client believes their children should make their own way in life, you may want to recommend a trust specifically provisioned for their education.
Your client’s can also influence how you communicate with them. If they — or their family — are uncomfortable talking about death, you may want to speak euphemistically.
These questions can be intimate and, for some clients, a little uncomfortable. Use your judgment: if it feels inappropriate to ask a particular question, skip it, or find a less direct way to ask.
42. How would you want to be remembered by friends, family and colleagues?
43. Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
44. How would you describe your approach to parenting?
45. Are there any charitable causes that are particularly important to you?
46. How would you want your children to be educated?
47. If money wasn’t an issue, how would you spend your time?
48. What’s your biggest fear about your estate?
49. Does talking about death make you uncomfortable?
50. Does talking about your death make your family uncomfortable?
Attitudes to money
51. Would your family be financially secure if you died? How much money would they need to be financially secure for the next 5 years?
52. Do you consider yourself “wealthy”?
53. Do your children and family members share these values?
54. What kind of role do you want to play in your children’s and grandchildren’s financial future?
55. How important is money to you? Why is it important?
56. How do you like to access and manage your money?
57. Do you have a budget? How do you approach budgeting?
With a firm grasp of your client's needs, values, knowledge and relationships, the next step is to gather the relevant documents and make a start on the client's estate plan.
Build your client’s estate plans with Snug
Ultimately, building a winning relationship with your clients is down to you. But once you get down to the nuts-and-bolts of estate planning, Snug has your back. Our estate planning software for financial advisors will help you create, review and update your clients' estate planning documents.