I recently had the chance to sit down with three top estate planners for a question-and-answer session. Here’s their advice for producers new to the estate planning business and those who wish to work on estate planning teams. (To read the first half of this Producer Roundtable, see Today’s Opportunities in Estate Planning.)
Q. What steps do you recommend to the producer who is considering focusing on estate planning? Are there professional designations that make a real difference, and are there associations you would recommend?
Kirk Wilkerson, registered representative and investment advisor who offer securities, annuities and insurance products through AXA Advisors LLC: The topic of estate planning scares many people. Clients want to know you know what you are doing. By attaining designations, such as the CFP or CLU, you’ll let clients and professionals know you have dedicated yourself to ongoing education about these and other financial issues. Also, affiliating with associations, such as the MDRT, is of tremendous importance. Not only do such associations raise your credibility, they give you exposure to other experienced professionals who are usually willing to help you grow your career and enhance your knowledge.
Philip E. Harriman, CLU, RFC, ChFC, co-founder of Lebel and Harriman LLP in Falmouth, Maine: Absolutely, designations are a must. The ChFC and the CLU come to mind as the respected and well-regarded ones. Designations indicate that you have intellectual as well as marketing expertise, which many attorneys and CPAs would expect if you are to work as a team of colleagues. I would join a local estate planning association as well as the Association of Advanced Life Underwriting (AALU).
Brian D. Heckert, CLU, ChFC, president of Financial Solutions Midwest LLC: In certain regions of the United States, advisors specialize in estate planning. For those just starting, I recommend teaming up with an experienced advisor and splitting cases for a few years. Entering into a mentoring relationship has proven to increase knowledge and often the revenue of the junior advisor. Most importantly, it benefits the client. The revenue split is a small down payment on the lifetime of knowledge gained.
I recommend all advisors pursue their ChFC and CFP designations. Also, attend MDRT focus sessions to keep on top of the continuous changes to the tax law and how our industry can help solve these issues.
Q. Many producers in the estate planning area talk about the importance of working with other members of the client’s team, such as their attorney, accountant, etc. Can you talk a little bit about how that works from a practical viewpoint? In other words, is it necessary for you to take the lead role, and if so, how do you accomplish that? How do you earn the trust of all those other advisors as well as your client?
Heckert: I almost always take the lead role among advisors. I like to use the following example: if the best quarterback in the league is playing in the defensive back position, it will do no good for the team. It is like having the best accountant or attorney involved in the planning process, yet doing the wrong job. These professionals should draft the documents and check the tax law, but they should not coordinate the process. They often lack the initiative, or the client does not want to pay the fee for a job my staff and I are highly capable of handling. If I can help advisors look good at a reasonable fee by doing the legwork for them then we all look good.