This week we spoke with Tracy Burke, an advisor with Conrad Siegel Investment Advisors in Harrisburg, Pa., which caters to high-net-worth clients. Burke recalls how a simple review of a client’s estate-planning documents revealed a simple — but crucial — error.
Several months ago, I met with one of my long-term clients, a man in his mid eighties. Over the years, we had discussed many things, including his plans for his estate. Over this period, his plans didn’t really change. He always said he wanted the bulk of the estate to go to his son, with a few other provisions for charitable donations. He had worked with an estate lawyer to set it up.
Every now and then, I’d ask him to send me the estate documents so I could review them. He’d always procrastinate. I didn’t push him too hard, since I knew he had an attorney who handled that part of his finances. Essentially, he told me everything was in order, and I took his word for it.
On a whim one day, I asked him to bring a copy of the will to our next meeting, just so I could glance over it. I framed it as an easy, painless task, not a more-formal review that would require him to call up his lawyer and make a bunch of changes. He was happy to do so — and once I saw the documents, I was glad I had asked.
The will mandated that after his death, his assets would go into a trust for the benefit of his son. That was all well and good, exactly as he wanted it. However, a local bank was named in the will as the corporate trustee of the bank. Whenever we had discussed the estate plan before, he and his son had both agreed that they wanted me to continue to manage the assets going forward. I explained to my client that would be difficult if the bank was enlisted as a trustee. He was shocked; he had thought that the bank would hold the assets and I would manage them.
After we discovered the issue, it was easy enough to remedy. I helped him find another corporate trustee who was willing to work with outside advisors to manage assets. Now he can rest easy knowing that his plans for the estate will be carried out.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen clients discover similar small errors or oversights in their estate plans or with their beneficiary designations. It’s easy to do.
I’ve started asking all my clients to bring in copies of these documents so I can give them a once-over. In my experience, clients can sometimes be resistant to making the necessary changes to their estate documents. I don’t know if it’s inertia, or confusion or what. However, my clients have been much more amenable to the suggestion that they bring in a copy of their documents for review.
It’s an easy first step, and one that’s not too intimidating. It provides the advisor a chance to see where the problem areas are. And often, once a client takes that simple first step, it makes it easier to keep that momentum up.