Building an Estate Planning Team

To create an estate plan that serves your unique needs and that will execute your wishes as to the distribution of your assets is an important and, often, a complex task.

Such professionals usually have honed their skills in their own specific fields. Sound estate planning is built upon a multidisciplinary approach. Each advisor that you choose should be able to form cooperative relationships with others and work together as a team to shape and implement your estate plan.

Benefits of the teamwork approach

One of the most important considerations in employing an estate planning team is to put each of your advisors on the same page, so to speak. When advisors act and advise independently of each other, they run the risk of working at cross purposes or with different agendas.

Just looking at individual pieces of a client’s circumstances may lead to a recommendation that is inappropriate when viewed from a broader perspective. A team environment can enjoy the powerful benefit of other team members’ strengths, while contributing their own experience to the quality of the work. This synergy,” they conclude, “not only adds tangible value to the planning process, but also makes the experience educational and enjoyable for the clients and family members involved.”

Virtual teamwork

The concept of working as a team might, at one time, have meant that your team met face to face—something that was often difficult to arrange given busy schedules, not to mention the potential for additional time and expense when significant travel was necessary. With the use of today’s technology—teleconferencing, e-mail, access to networking to exchange documents, virtual teamwork is more the norm.

Virtual teamwork is one of the key principles in a values-based estate plan. Transferring one’s values and ideals is an important part of a legacy. Children and grandchildren should inherit more than stocks and bonds, but also cherished goals and beliefs for which they should strive—for example, recognition of one’s heritage; respect for family traditions; the need to contribute to the community and the world at large.

In values-based, as well as more traditional estate planning, virtual planning teams are likely to be less permanent and less formal than teams of the past. But even so, advisors are still capable of banding together to meet a specific goal—to solve a client’s particular planning needs.

But will the team work together harmoniously?

Fithian addresses this potential problem by discussing the work of Dan Sullivan, founder and president of The Strategic Coach, Inc. Sullivan says that advisors should be chosen for their unique ability—a one-of-a-kind, extraordinary skill that improves continuously. Building a successful team requires aligning the right combination of unique abilities. The best approach, says Sullivan, is to focus on the necessary skills that must be brought to the planning process rather than on a combination of particular people. Identifying and combining unique abilities is critical to building a truly effective team.

Team members, for now and later

A multidisciplinary team approach is likely at some point in time in the estate planning process to consist of an attorney, accountant, trust officer, investment manager, insurance agent, financial planner and individuals associated with charitable giving, perhaps even, in some cases, your heirs.

Most, if not all, of these team members will continue working together after your death. Some will begin to serve only after your death—most particularly, your executor and the trustee of a testamentary trust (a trust in your will).

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