The decisions you make regarding your estate will no doubt touch on many different aspects of your life, and the estate-planning process could pull in lawyers, accountants, insurance agents and others. But it’s a pretty sure bet that your assets will be at the heart of many of those decisions. That’s why it makes sense to reserve for your financial advisor a key seat at the table when you’re setting up your estate-planning team.


Assuming you’ve got an established relationship with your financial advisor, they’re going to have a detailed and comprehensive idea of your financial situation. A major part of estate planning is determining the value of your assets, which is often more complex than it would seem. People who try to do this themselves often make errors, since it requires familiarity with such concepts as realistic value, withdrawal taxes, penalties, depreciation and more. Your financial advisor, of course, is well suited to make such valuations. Plus, being familiar with your finances, they’ll know what you own, what debt you’re carrying, what your philanthropic priorities and activities are, what kind of insurance coverage you have, and other such things. You might have forgotten about that small annuity you purchased 15 years ago, and your estate-planning attorney will have no idea it exists, but your advisor will see it as soon as they pull up your file…and will be able to provide a correct estimate of its value. In such ways, financial advisors can provide deep context to the discussion and answer questions about how feasible a proposed course of action might be.  

Even when it comes to your choices for dividing your assets, the financial advisor might have a better handle on certain aspects of those decisions than either you or an attorney. For example, you might want to leave your granddaughter enough money to pay for half of her education at your alma mater. Your financial advisor might be best equipped to estimate how much money that amounts to, as well as knowing best where to put those funds to ensure that the money is all there when your granddaughter needs it.

A common mistake people make when planning their estates is looking after everyone but themselves. Central to your financial advisor’s role is always making sure that you have enough money, while you’re alive, to take care of your needs. That perspective can be critical as you’re setting up your estate plan, preventing you from making hasty decisions that might undermine your ability to take care of yourself late in life.


But providing context is not the only way a financial advisor contributes to estate-planning discussions. Some of the choices you make will involve establishing new accounts, purchasing new financial products, or establishing new financial structures, all of which benefit from the expertise of a financial advisor. For example, an estate planner might encourage you to take out long-term care insurance or to add an accelerated death benefits rider to an existing policy. A financial advisor will be familiar with such plans and able to help you select policies and riders that match your needs and ability to pay. Or you may decide that at the end of your life, you want to go from ad hoc charitable giving to structuring a trust or even a foundation. Again, your financial advisor will help make sure you’re proceeding in the most tax-efficient way and that your charitable contributions will be well-targeted.

Your financial advisor can also help you think through the tax implications of some of your choices regarding how your assets are to be divided. For example, you might think you’re doing one of your children a favor by leaving them a particular asset when in fact it represents a considerable tax liability for them. A financial advisor is tuned into such considerations and can help you make decisions that are the most equitable for your loved ones. Among the tax-optimization tools at a financial advisor’s disposal are such techniques as irrevocable trusts, lifetime gifts, conditional wealth transfers, private annuities, and estate-freezing.

A financial advisor concerned about making sure you have enough money to cover your own needs might suggest establishing a living trust so you can retain control of your assets during your lifetime but bequeath them to the people you want to receive them after you die.

Estate planning is not all about dividing up assets. It often also includes making provisions to care for loved ones after you have gone, such as spouses with significant medical needs, or disabled adult children. This may require the purchase of different forms of insurance or the establishment of trusts. Your financial advisor will be an invaluable aid as you contemplate what levels of support you’re able to provide to your loved ones and what form that support might take.


Once the key decisions have been made regarding your strategies for dividing your estate and caring for your loved ones, actually setting up the necessary structures should be a team effort between attorney and financial planner. For example, if you decide to establish a family trust, your advisor can give you close guidance on which assets to place into it, build tax-planning strategies around it, and seek the highest investment returns on its contents.

A financial advisor can also review such accounts as life insurance policies and retirement funds to make sure your beneficiaries are properly designated. And your advisor can also make sure that the funds in your bank accounts go the right person when you die, by setting up a payable-on-death (POD) or transferable-on-death (TOD) provision. Involving a financial advisor in estate planning could have yet another benefit. If your family members are struggling financially or you feel that they’ll be overwhelmed by their inheritance, you can even add in a provision to engage the financial advisor after your passing to help steward your loved ones’

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