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At some point in their careers, many senior-market advisors start to move beyond sales to incorporate more estate planning work with clients. It’s a logical progression because seniors are naturally more focused on estate planning than younger clients. Additionally, older clients are often wealthier and need a wider range of advice, products and services. We recently asked several successful advisors how they transitioned to estate planning.

Lay the groundwork

Greg Gagne, ChFC, with Affinity Investment Group LLC in Exeter, N.H., started as a financial services rep for MassMutual fresh out of college in 1992. The early years were difficult, he admits: “I was squeaking by, but I was having a very difficult time managing the peaks and valleys of being in the transaction-orientated business. I was desperate to find a method where I could have recurring revenue…that’s why I moved towards a fee-based model.”

See also: Seniors Speak Out on Advisor Compensation

Gagne spent about a year talking with centers of influence, such as CPAs and attorneys who worked with older clients. He also started learning about the financial and personal issues that seniors encountered. At the same time, he started developing his technical knowledge. “I needed to become versed in probate avoidance, different types of ownership and how that works for estate planning, utilizing trusts, powers of attorney and basic legal documents,” he says. “Once I garnered that knowledge, I began implementing it with each and every client that we work with within our firm.”

Plan the transition

Irv Birnbaum, CLU, ChFC, CFP, came to financial services with MetLife in Chicago after working as a chemical engineer and running a computer business. His analytic skills led to his interest in more sophisticated, complex cases and now estate planning accounts for about half his business.

Birnbaum’s suggestion for advisors considering the estate planning market: develop a business plan. That plan should include advanced professional education — Birnbaum recommends the Accredited Estate Planner program that the American College offers. Determine how you’ll market yourself to accountants and attorneys, he advises, and don’t hesitate to explain that you’re seeking reciprocal referrals as well.

Don’t sell yourself short

Steven Plewes, CLU, ChFC, started out in 1976 as a door-to-door debit salesman for Prudential Insurance. Today, he owns Advisors Financial Group in Gaithersburg, Md., and many of his clients are corporate executives and widows. He cautions that moving from sales income to advisory fees can take time and advisors should have adequate cash reserves for the transition.

It’s also important to charge fees that reflect your experience and expertise, Plewes notes.

See also: Creating an Estate Planning Dream Team

“You want to charge your fees at a level comparable to the other professionals that your clients are working with,” he says. “If the client is working with an attorney who is charging $300 an hour and a CPA who’s charging $200 an hour, you can’t bill yourself out at $75 an hour or else you’ve instantly diminished yourself in their eyes. You need to charge something in that same range of $200 to $300 so that they view you as the same level of professional that the other advisors are.”


For more on estate planning, see:

 Tom Rowan Breaks Down the Mystique of Estate Planning

Post-Election Estate Tax Fix?

8 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid