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Why Your Wealth Manager and Estate Planning Attorney Should be More Than Just Referral Partners


In estate planning, teamwork makes the dream work

When you’ve worked hard to build your financial foundation, you deserve to be surrounded by a team of experts to guide you to your financial goals. Any comprehensive financial planning should include not only your investment objectives, but also strategies for wealth preservation and estate planning to ensure your plan accounts for the goals you have for your financial legacy.

Putting together your financial team is similar to building a coaching staff for a professional team. Imagine you’re the general manager of a football team and you have a fantastic head coach who runs the defense, but you know you also need to hire an offensive coordinator. While you could go out and hire any offensive coordinator whose team scored lots of points per game the prior year, that might not put your team in the best position to win. See, the head coach and the offensive coordinator need to align their game plans so that they work together. They also need to be comfortable working with each other so they know who’s responsible for different facets of the game, such as time management and other strategic decisions. If the coach and coordinator haven’t worked together before, precious seconds could be ticking off the clock while each waits for the other to call time out, costing field position, points, or even the game.

Similarly, having a wealth manager and estate planning attorney who work together regularly can put you and your family in the best position to transfer wealth from one generation to the next. At Creative Planning, we actively cultivate those relationships through offering estate planning services through our in-house legal team who can not only advise on existing documents, but prepare any documents needed to update or complete your plan without having to send you to an outside attorney. Here are several ways that having a wealth manager and estate planning attorney that work together as a team can help ensure your financial legacy remains intact for generations to come:

Planning for Your Unique Family

To prepare a comprehensive estate plan, your attorney needs to know your full financial and family picture.1 The more assets you have, the more likely you are to overlook some, especially if you don’t know how they affect your estate. And, the better your wealth manager knows your family situation, the better he or she can share key points with your estate planning that can help the attorney craft a customized plan that fits your family.

For example, clients often don’t think of their life insurance policies as an asset because they won’t be the ones benefitting from them during their lifetime. However, when determining the best way to set up your estate plan, a life insurance policy can make a big difference for your beneficiaries – and to the government – because those proceeds are usually2 included in your estate. The federal estate tax exemption increased to $11.4 million per spouse in 2019, but if you live in a state with a state estate tax, the exemption could be much lower.

It’s also vital that your estate planning attorney knows what makes your family unique so he or she can offer solutions tailored to your situation. Is there a business that makes up a larger percentage of your net worth, but only one of your four children is involved? Perhaps giving that child the option to buy out the siblings, at terms you know the business can absorb, will maximize the chances that the business will continue to succeed, but also that your children will still speak to each other. Is there one person who you’re concerned will contest your plan? Perhaps an in terrorum clause will mitigate that risk.

If your estate planning attorney knows some or all of the quirks ahead of time, you can spend less time getting the attorney up to speed and more time collaborating to craft the best plan for your family.

When your Wealth Manager and Estate Planning Attorney work together, you can authorize your Wealth Manager to share your asset list with your Estate Planning Attorney ahead of time. When you come in for your first meeting, he or she has your full financial picture and can be prepared with recommendations that are tailored to your specific circumstances. That way, you can spend more time living and less in the estate planning attorney’s office.3

Ensuring Timely Completion

It’s incredibly rare that someone has an exact deadline for getting their estate planning documents in place. And, when it does happen, it’s usually because parents have a vacation coming up – without the kids – and one spouse has said it’s not going to happen unless the estate plan is signed before the plane takes off. Short of that external motivation, it’s easy to give in to the tyranny of the urgent and put your estate planning on the backburner.

The difference between working with an in-house attorney and an outside counsel can be the difference between a plan getting completed or being put off until tragedy strikes and it’s too late. When a wealth manager gives you a business card and says to call the estate planner to set an appointment, it takes a lot of will power to make sure that gets done. By the time you get home, your spouse texted you, your boss emailed you and left a message, and your child is wondering why they haven’t been picked up yet.

It’s normal to think “Estate planning can wait – I’m not going to die this week anyway,” but unfortunately, tragedy doesn’t wait until we’re ready. Some couples assume that because all of their assets are jointly held, they don’t need a plan until one of them passes. Not only does that thought process ignore the possibility of simultaneous deaths (or deaths in short succession), even if one spouse survives, that places an immense burden on the surviving spouse to get a plan put in place – and to make all of the important decisions alone – when he or she is still grieving the loss of a loved one. Having a wealth manager to keep you accountable for putting a plan in place sooner rather than later helps avoid the legal and emotional implications of not completing your estate plan.

At Creative Planning, wealth managers have access to estate planning attorney’s calendars and can schedule the meeting for you before you leave. Plus, your wealth manager can send over your financial and family information you’ve already shared, saving you the time and hassle of playing phone tag trying to get an appointment scheduled. And, your wealth manager can stay in the loop to make sure all of the documents get executed.

Updating Account Titling and Beneficiary Designations

One of the major benefits of creating a revocable trust as your primary estate planning vehicle is avoiding probate. However, your assets only avoid probate if your assets are titled in the name of your trust or list your trust as the payable on death (“POD”) or transfer on death (“TOD”) beneficiary. Any assets that are still in your individual name, however, go through probate. If you have a pour-over will, which directs that all probate assets pass to your trust, the assets will still get to the trust, but only after the hassle of the probate process.

However, if assets have beneficiary designations already on them before you complete your estate plan, those beneficiary designations will supersede your estate plan for those specific assets. For example, imagine you have an ex-spouse named on your 401(k) plan. If your estate planning attorney restates your trust so that all of your assets pass straight to your children, but your ex is still on the 401(k) plan, your kids won’t be inheriting that retirement account.

Alternatively, if you have your children listed as contingent beneficiaries on accounts, but then you update your estate plan to include testamentary trusts for them – because of their age, for asset protection, or both – if you don’t update the contingent beneficiary to your trust, all your effort of setting up those trusts to protect your kids will be for naught with respect to those assets because they won’t pass through your trust.

Plus, let’s be honest: When you’re buying that new lake house or starting your new business venture, your estate plan is probably the last thing on your mind. But, when you have a Wealth Manager who checks in with you regularly and updates your net worth statement, he or she will know to inquire about the titling on those assets and either be able to help you update them, or bring in the Estate Planning Attorney to make sure everything is titled correctly.

When your wealth manager and estate planning attorney work as a team for your benefit, your wealth manager will make sure your assets are titled correctly. As your assets grow and you open new accounts and accumulate additional houses, cars, and more, having someone to check in on how you’re keeping up with titling your assets helps avoid your beneficiaries having to go through probate with your assets.

Coordinating Charitable Planning

You have a plethora of options to pick from when supporting the charitable causes you care about, from writing a check today to including bequests to your favorite organizations in your estate plan to be paid at your death, all with different tax consequences.

However, after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, both the income tax and estate tax landscape has changed substantially, and more and more clients need to plan ahead to maximize the tax benefits of their gifts. There are still ways that you or your family can use your generosity to lower the tax burden, but it’s hard to determine which route is best without someone who knows the estate planning options along with someone who knows the details of your financial and tax situation.

With the changes in the federal estate tax exemption, fewer and fewer families reap any tax benefits from including charitable contributions in their estate planning documents. Some families would generate larger income tax savings from making donations during their lifetime. Plus, getting to see the dollars put to charitable use can also generate more personal fulfillment. Alternatively, if you want to instill the importance of charitable giving in your children, consider creating a donor advised fund. Your donation generates a current income tax deduction for you, the money can grow in the donor advised fund, and you can name your children to take over making grants after your death so they can be personally involved in deciding what causes the funds ultimately benefit.

Alternatively, once you give money to charity, you can’t take it back – no matter how badly you need it. If you’ve talked with your advisor and based on your goals and current savings, you’re going to lose sleep if you give some away during your lifetime, saving the tax break for your kids to claim when they donate a portion of their inheritance lets you rest easy now and allows your kids to pay less in taxes later. In that case, your family could be better off if you leave the money to your children with the understanding that they will give some of the money to charity – and thereby generate an income tax deduction that they can use to lower their taxes.

Estate Planning Updates

Just because an estate plan has been executed does not mean the work is over. As advisors we are constantly working to update the financial plans and uncover any new developments, minimizing the potential that something can go unnoticed in the estate and financial plan, such as purchasing a new asset, like a vacation home, or updating beneficiary designations as retirement plans are rolled into new accounts. It’s hard to believe the purchase of a section of land can slip through the cracks, but it certainly can if the communication and understanding of the family goals are not streamlined. If that vacation home is in a different state and isn’t titled properly, not only will it have to pass through probate, but it will require a separate probate estate in that state.

As your life changes, sometimes your estate plan needs to change as well. A good estate planning attorney will include provisions for some contingencies, such as more children being added to the family, or a beneficiary passing before you do. However, sometimes the curveballs life throws your way require updating your estate plan.

Sometimes, the estate planning implications are obvious – if you want to include someone you previously excluded from your estate plan, or you want to remove someone you were previously leaving money to, you need to make changes. Other times, there might be estate planning implications you’re not even aware of, such as if your child has made what you deem a less-than-advisable4 choice of spouse and you don’t think the marriage will last, or if you buy a vacation home that you want to be available for your descendants for generations to come.

For example, when clients withdraw money from an investment account, a good wealth manager will notice and ask for details. If the money is used to purchase a property in another state, your wealth manager should be inquiring about how the property is titled and your goals for the property. Is it just an investment? Or is it something more, like a family vacation home that you hope will remain in the family for generations? Without proper titling, your heirs will be stuck administering the property in a probate estate in a different state.

No doubt, clients certainly don’t want their kids to have to go through probate in a different state or have the family vacation spot divided up into separate shares that could be available for their children’s future creditors or even ex-spouses. However, without a wealth manager raising a red flag and calling in the estate planning attorney to offer more proactive solutions, such as setting up a separate dynasty trust to hold the vacation home and funds to sustain it, as well as setting rules for how family members could use it in the future to ensure family harmony, the clients dreams of a peaceful retreat for their descendants could have easily been dashed with just one divorce.

Can your wealth manager call your estate planning attorney with a life update and ask – at no charge for the attorney’s time – if there might need to be changes made to your estate plan?


  1. Unless your family is going to fight over the duck-shaped butter dish (yes, it happens) you don’t have to have a full inventory of your kitchen. But, those gold bars in the basement or the estranged child you no longer mention? Yes, those can make a difference.
  2. If you have an irrevocable life insurance trust already in place, and the policy is titled correctly, it won’t be included, but your estate planner should still know about it.
  3. Unless you want to spend more time there. We think our offices are pretty cool, but we know most people have other places they’d rather be.
  4. “Less-than-advisable” is putting it nicely. Usually, clients describe these unwise spouses in much more colorful language.

This commentary is provided for general information purposes only, should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice, and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. Past performance of any market results is no assurance of future performance. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources deemed reliable but is not guaranteed.


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