Top 3 Questions to Ask Your Clients About Their Estate Plan

As a trusted advisor, you provide expert guidance to your clients regarding many financial planning matters. It makes sense that you will come across clients who ask about estate planning. Even if they do not ask, you can start the conversation by inquiring if they have thought about what would happen to their money and property if something were to happen to them. 

You do not need to be an expert in estate planning to help a client get started. However, you should refer them to an attorney after your initial discussion and encourage them to develop a comprehensive plan that contains the right legal tools to meet their goals. You can lay the groundwork by explaining how important it is to have a comprehensive estate plan.

Clients who already have an estate planning attorney may only see them once every few years to review their plans, while others may not have spoken to their estate planning attorney since they first created their estate plan many years ago. You may see the client more often and know of changes in their life, investments, and beneficiaries that can greatly affect their estate and long-term goals. You can remind your clients that they may need to visit their estate planning attorney due to changes you have discovered or discussed.

1. Does your client currently have a will or trust?

Many people procrastinate about creating a will or trust, often thinking they do not own enough to need an estate plan or wanting to avoid what they think will be a complex, expensive process. You can address these misconceptions so they can move forward with protecting themselves and their loved ones. 

If your client has not done an estate plan, remind them that the state has an estate plan for them—the intestate law for those who die without a will or trust—and that plan may not be what they want, especially if they have a blended family. There is a hierarchy that the state follows when determining which family members receive a person’s money and property and how much they will receive. In most cases, these laws do not account for stepchildren or unmarried partners. If the client wants to determine who will receive their money and property, they need to proactively plan with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney. 

If your client already has a will or trust, ask when it was last reviewed or updated. Explain why estate planning is not a one-and-done project. Changes in family dynamics and life events will affect their estate plan. Over time, people change their minds, get married or divorced, have children and grandchildren, and buy and sell investments and property. These changes can impact who the client chooses as their trusted decision-makers, who they want to receive their money and property, and how much they want certain people or charities to receive. The client’s estate plan needs to evolve with the client to ensure that their wishes are carried out.

2. Does your client have people they trust to make financial or medical decisions for them in emergencies?

If your client has not chosen people to make financial and medical decisions for them, if they are unable to make their own decisions, they need to think about who they would want to do so. When choosing trusted decision-makers to serve as agents under a financial or medical power of attorney, your client must consider whether a person has the necessary qualities and skills to handle the role, whether they are willing to accept the role, and whether they understand their responsibilities. 

If your client has chosen people to serve as decision-makers, it is important that these people understand your client’s wishes should they need to step in and act. Your client can communicate their wishes by having a conversation with the decision-makers, providing their wishes in writing, or stating their wishes in a video. Your client should also periodically evaluate whether the people they have chosen are still the right people for the job. 

If your client is unable to make decisions for themselves and they have not properly named someone to act for them under financial and medical powers of attorney, a judge will have to decide who will make the financial and medical decisions on the client’s behalf. It can be time-consuming and costly for family members, as well as emotionally overwhelming, particularly in a medical emergency. In addition, the judge may appoint someone whom the client would not have chosen.

3. Does your client have minor children?

If your client has minor children, the client must nominate temporary and permanent guardians to care for them in the event the client and the other parent are unable to care for them. If the client has already nominated someone to serve as a guardian, they should review this selection and make sure the person is still able and willing to care for the children should something happen. If your client does not nominate someone, the state will choose a person to care for the children. If no family members are available, it could be a professional guardian who is a stranger. 

Starting your client on their estate planning journey offers them the incredible opportunity to preserve their legacy and protect their loved ones. Reminding your clients to review their existing estate plan ensures that their loved ones and legacy will continue to be protected. We are happy to work with any of your clients who have questions about creating or updating their estate plans.