Whether you are in need of a new mechanic, dentist, or hairdresser, your main priority is to find someone you can trust to meet your needs reasonably. The same holds true for seeking financial experts like a tax advisor, estate planning attorney, or financial advisor.
So whether you have moved, life has changed, or you just want/need a change, intentionally looking for a new “expert” in your life can feel daunting, overwhelming, or frustrating. Let’s think about some Dos and Don’ts to help you get started with that process.
Starting a conversation about who to consider can often be a good place to start by talking to family, neighbors, and friends. Who do they know or have worked with in the area of expertise you are seeking? How was their experience? Would they recommend them?
The only word of caution here is to be clear that you are shopping, which implies considering more than one recommendation. You want to avoid feeling pressured or obligated to choose someone who you may end up feeling is not a good fit.
The old adage “Trust but Verify!” holds especially true when searching for someone to help you with financial matters. You have worked hard for what you have in place so you want to do your homework in finding that right person or firm. Your family, friend or neighbor may trust the person suggested but you should verify for yourself by meeting with him/her.
Professionals will offer a complementary initial meeting to allow you to ask questions and learn more about their services. So take advantage of that opportunity to meet them in person. I suggest you meet with at least two different companies, asking them each similar questions so you can compare answers but also get a gut check on your comfort level with each person.
Some professions have busier times of year that would be best to avoid for an initial meeting. CPAs in the United States, for example, may not even be available for an initial meeting February-April 15.
Think about your best timing for a meeting too. Are you at your best in the morning, early afternoon, or another time? And give traffic some consideration too. You don’t want to schedule a meeting when you will be stuck in rush hour traffic on your way there. You may arrive frazzled or late or both!
When you meet with financial professionals, ask about their typical clients. Are their average clients similar to you? Are they accustomed to advising those in the same situation as you?
Make a list of questions in advance of the meeting so you ask the same questions of each person you meet with. For the CPA, is there a meeting included with tax filing either before or after the return is prepared? After reviewing two years of tax returns, can they estimate your annual tax preparation fee? How are things like tax planning and email/phone call questions handled?
For the estate planning attorney, what is their philosophy on who needs a will vs a trust? For an estate planning package, will there be a flat fee or an hourly charge? How are changes and future document reviews handled?
For the financial advisor/financial planner, how are they licensed (as a Certified Financial Planner, CFP®) and are they required to act in a fiduciary capacity (only giving advice in your best interest)? How many clients do they have and how do they get paid? What areas do they advise on and has that changed over the years?
Once you have selected the tax, legal or financial expert you want to work with, remember that the more information you can share about your situation, the better the advice can be. Providing the past two years of tax returns to a CPA, a net worth summary to an estate planning attorney, or current statements to a financial advisor can help them give you more comprehensive advice.
How often have you found “you get what you pay for” to be true? Using a will kit or an online, fill-in-the-blank service instead of an estate planning attorney, for example, can backfire later on. The upfront cost of drafting documents correctly and thoroughly can be a fraction of the cost to pay later for court involvement and/or probate that could have been avoided.
Estate planning especially is the biggest back burner area of financial planning, and it often gets put off the longest. It forces you to think about unpleasant things… death, incapacity, life for your loved ones after you’re gone. So, no one likes to think let alone act on those thoughts. But this is not an IF, this is a WHEN fact of life. Therefore, take care of yourself and your family by getting things in writing.
I know a CPA’s least favorite sentence to hear is “I know I should have checked with you first but…” Tax ramifications can be difficult to remedy after the fact. Talking with your tax advisor before purchasing, selling, etc. can often save you money even if you had to pay for the advice.
Not disclosing an asset to an estate planning attorney so you can plan appropriately for its title/ownership/beneficiary, can be costly in time and money in the end. Communicating is for your benefit.
So DO start a list of who to consider meeting with along with the questions to ask them. DON’T delay and get started today!
What have you learned in finding your experts? Any tips you can share? Let’s have a discussion!