Individuals from more than one professional discipline are qualified to assist clients in estate planning. The best results usually are obtained from enlisting a variety of advisors to assist in total financial planning, including estate planning. The estate planning team has traditionally consisted of an attorney, an insurance specialist, a bank trust officer, an accountant, and an investment counselor. A financial planner also often is involved. Most financial planners had specialized in one of the disciplines noted previously but have now chosen to take a more holistic approach to advising. Frequently, the financial planner or the insurance specialist makes the first contact with the client, sensitizes him or her to the need for estate planning, and motivates him or her to become involved in the process. This person often acts as coordinator for the entire plan, although any capable member of the team might fill this role.
The accountant is the advisor most likely to have annual contact with the client through preparation of the client’s tax returns. This gives him or her opportunity to be familiar with the size, amount, and nature of the individual’s estate. The accountant may be the person who can most easily provide a valuation for any asset in the estate when it is not easily ascertainable. Valuation is particularly crucial if the estate plan includes a buy-sell agreement to provide for a transfer of the business interest upon death or disability .The accountant also may help prepare the estate tax return.
The trust officer may be the person to whom the individual initially turned for information and for estate planning services if professional management was desired in the administration of trusts. A competent trust officer will be familiar with estate planning and the various estate planning tools. The long-term nature of the relationship between the trustee and the beneficiaries argues for great care to be exercised in trustee selection. Bank trust departments are often trustees. The life insurance specialist plays an important role on the estate planning team because he or she can provide products that will supply the estate with the necessary cash to pay the estate tax and other liabilities as well as to fund income needs of surviving family members. Life insurance is the primary asset of many estates, and, consequently, a major source of family income after an estate owner dies.
The attorney is a crucial member because plans usually cannot be executed properly without knowledge of the law. Furthermore, only attorneys may practice law. The attorney is responsible for legal advice and for preparing documents assuring that the individual’s intentions are expressed in legally enforceable language that serves as the basis for carrying out the plan. These documents virtually always include wills, and many include trusts, buy-sell agreements, and other documents if a sophisticated estate plan is necessary.
Estate planning has become vastly more complicated and challenging as a field of practice. The effective estate planner is familiar with applicable local and federal law and has a good working knowledge of matters pertaining to property, probate, wills and trusts, taxation, corporations, partnerships, business, insurance, and divorce. An estate planner must be able to explain relevant portions of these subjects in plain language.