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10 Questions to Help Clients Navigate Estate Planning
• Sasha Grabenstetter • October 20, 2022
Estate planning: for financial planners, it’s complicated. If you’ve been wondering what estate planning questions to ask clients, you’re not alone.
You know that incorporating estate planning into a client’s overall plan can be valuable. But you also know that, like money, death is a taboo topic of conversation. How do you walk the fine line of creating an engaging client experience while directing people to think about estate planning topics?
For the answer to that question, turn the pages of the bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Author Stephen Covey encouraged readers to begin with the end in mind—to envision what people would say at their funeral, for example.
When financial planners ask their clients to think about their estate plans, the idea is similar. You want clients to be goal-oriented and think about the bigger picture of their lives, what wishes they want to ensure are carried out, and how they want to protect and care for others.
91 Percent Want Estate Plan Advice
Though you’re likely more comfortable providing investment advice, people are also looking to you for proactive estate guidance: 91 percent want their advisor’s estate planning advice, but only 22 percent receive it, according to a Spectrem Group study.1
Here we’ve gathered 10 questions that can help you guide clients and deliver the type of holistic advice they’re looking for. Note that you may want to email a few of these questions to your client in advance of a meeting to give them a chance to process them. Everyone is different, and some people need a bit of warning. Others might even benefit from a resource like The Top Five Regrets of the Dying to connect with the deeper purpose of the exercise.
Thought Starters: Creating an Estate Plan
1. Imagine you could fast-forward to preview the end of your life. How would you like to be remembered by family, friends, and colleagues?
This question is a thought experiment to help clients reflect on their values. If they struggle with putting themselves in the shoes of others, try slightly different phrasing: “What accomplishment would you be most proud of?” Once you’ve identified this, it’s time to start talking about how their estate plan can solidify that legacy.
2. Have you thought about what life would be like for your loved ones if something were to happen to you? What would you like to happen in that event?
If your client is married, you may get an answer like, “Everything will go to my spouse, that’s why I don’t need a formal will or estate plan.” You could use this as an opportunity to educate them about the fact that spouses do not automatically have power of attorney. Many complex scenarios could arise, especially when it comes to medical and financial decision-making, and that’s why estate planning is so important. Your follow-up questions could be about whether the client has reviewed their beneficiary designations lately, including contingent beneficiaries.
Emphasize that your role is to help the client get their financial life in order, and that includes what happens at the end of life.
3. Who would inherit your assets?
This question can lead to explaining the ins and outs of wealth transfer. Specifically, you may need to explain what the probate process is, what it costs (up to 8 percent of an estate in some states), and how careful planning can help certain assets transfer outside of probate.2
4. (For clients who own a pet) Who would you want to take care of your pets?
Nearly 44 percent of pet owners have made written or verbal plans for what would happen to a pet at the end of life.3 If your client has pets with long life spans or complex and pricey upkeep, they’ll need time to create a thoughtful plan for their pet.
5. (For clients who are parents of a minor child/children) Who would you want to raise your child as their guardian?
Selecting a guardian can often be the primary motivation for creating an estate plan. It can also lead parents to conflict and delays. The reality is that choosing not to put guardianship wishes in writing means you’re leaving it up to the courts. For such a personal matter, parents want to have a say and many need a reminder that this decision is in their hands.
6. Have you appointed a health care proxy who can make decisions in a worst-case scenario?
With the pandemic fresh in our minds, the possibility of being too ill or incapacitated to communicate our choices is all too real. This question is meant to be a gentle reminder that each person can prepare ahead of time by appointing a proxy.
7. In your view, what tasks seem manageable today that we can get started on?
Wrap up with an open-ended question that motivates clients and leads toward action steps, whether that is for the client to contact their attorney, get a referral, or research their options.
Thought Starters: Estate Plan Update
8. What changes have you had in your family this year? Any that might prompt an update to your estate plan?
Some changes, like getting married, are obvious. However, it might be the case that the person they’ve appointed as guardian passed away, or an adult child has a problem with drug addiction and the parent would like to look into specialized trusts or a new structure for their estate. Listen for any indications that their estate planning may be in need of a refresh.
9. What changes have you had in the charities that you support? Would you like any new organizations included in your estate planning?
Americans gave an estimated $484.85 billion to charity last year, according to a 2022 Giving USA report.4 Show that you’re there to help your clients support the causes near and dear to their hearts by occasionally checking in on their philanthropy.
10. How involved was your family in the development of your estate plan? Let me know if you’d like me to facilitate a family meeting to get everyone on the same page.
Did you know there is a national database to make it easier for survivors to find unclaimed life insurance proceeds? When it comes to our money, Americans often keep things secret.
A 2022 survey of adults with $100,000 or more in investable assets showed only 19 percent were completely transparent with loved ones about their plans for wealth transfer. However, there are many situations where a little “need-to-know” information upfront can prevent family conflict. Gathering generations of a family together to map out details, like keeping a treasured vacation home in the family, can offer your clients peace of mind.
Listen in on Estate Planning Conversations
To get a glimpse into how these conversations might play out in real life, watch the video below of me and Joe Buhrmann, CFP®, CLU®, ChFC® presenting Candid Conversations: Helping Clients Prepare for the Death of a Loved One. We role-play an estate planning scenario to offer insight into how to apply counseling techniques in your practice.
Read Our Candid Conversations Guide
Want to dive even deeper into end-of-life planning? Read our new eBook, Candid Conversations: Estate Planning. It provides financial planners like you with practical techniques and tactics to foster candid conversations about death, dying, and estate planning, with examples and sample dialogue.
1. Spectrem Group. “Focus On What Investors Want,” November 1, 2021.
2. “The Cost of Probate: A State Comparison.” LegalMatch.com, 2020. October 27.
3. “Securian Financial Group Pet Owners Survey,” 2014.
4. “Giving USA 2022: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2021.” Giving USA, 2022. June 21.
DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.
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