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Come together for couple legacy planning
Come together for couple legacy planning

May 01 2024 / Round the Table Magazine

Come together for couple legacy planning

Getting client couples on the same page makes everyone aware of the legacy plan.

Topics Covered

Participating members:

Anthony G. Engrassia, ChFC, LUTCF, a 28-year MDRT member from Rocky Mount, North Carolina, USA
Benjamin Harding, CFP, ChFC, a 20-year MDRT member from Burlington, Massachusetts, USA
Daniel Turnwald, CLU, LUTCF, an 12-year MDRT member from Ottawa, Ohio, USA
Darren W. Ulmer, CFP, CLU, a 15-year MDRT member from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

How can advisors get spouses on the same page, or at least get both to attend a meeting, when one doesn’t know the other’s plan or lets the other partner handle all the financial decisions? MDRT members participating in a Client Legacy Task Force meeting talked about why getting everyone on board is important and how they do it.

Engrassia: You’ve had client couples where one says they do the planning and the other one is not interested because it bores them to death. What do you do to get both spouses to come in?

Harding: I say, “Well, do you make every decision by yourself, or are there times where you guys make decisions together that are not financial?”

Engrassia: I say, “Have your spouse come in because, guess what, if your spouse doesn’t like me, we’re not going any further.” That might be one way.

Turnwald: It would be a disservice to the couple if it’s just one participating. First of all, we’re not getting all the information. If we can’t do a good fact-finding, then why would we want to waste their time? Also, on some of my bigger cases, if I’ve sensed that maybe there’s an attorney involved and the clients are looking to put some legal documents in place, I have done the appointments with their attorney to make sure that we have their buy-in as well.

Ulmer: We won’t meet unless all stakeholders are involved. If it’s a business, then it’s going to be the business partners. If it’s a family farm, we will not meet unless everybody who’s actively engaged in the farm can be there, and sometimes that’s grandpa and grandma, mom and dad, and son or daughter. One of the things that we started doing a year ago that is really beginning to bear fruit is collaborating and engaging with the accountant in advance. We’re at the point where I tell clients, “I don’t want any of your financial documents from you; I want them directly from your accountant.” We have a referral letter so that I create a relationship with the accountant.

We have a process where, before we even have a conversation with prospects, we send out a minute-and-a-half introductory video of the team that talks about how we help families and businesses make wise financial decisions. Part of that process during discovery is that all the stakeholders need to be involved. Then we have an introductory meeting, and if we’re getting along in the introductory meeting, we enter into a letter of engagement that outlines what they can expect from us, but also what we expect from them, which is participation of all the stakeholders. If it’s their wife, we need to make sure that she’s there. Both of them are signing a document, and we’re going to be working together. If it’s a business, their business partner signs it too. If they say their wife can’t make it; she’s tied up with the kids after school or something, I’ll say, “OK, would it be better if later tonight we set up a Zoom meeting, and you guys can do it at home or at least be in the same room?” So, we try to accommodate an alternative versus getting a no. And if they still say no and ask why we can’t just do it now, we say we have a process. You agreed to the process, and that’s the way it’s going to go.

Engrassia: I take a different approach, and I guess it depends on everybody’s situation. I interview the couple separately, and then I bring them together, because sometimes you’ll hear some things from one that he or she wouldn’t come out and say when they’re together.

Harding: I don’t think there’s a distinction between business planning or personal planning. No one gets into business just to build something with no personal benefit to it. It’s all personal planning. Eighty percent of my clients own businesses, but I do personal planning. I always ask clients, if I have two partners, “If you’re not here, what would your spouse expect out of this company?” Then the client starts talking about the lifestyle they’re maintaining and what this company is personally giving to them now. Because if someone dies, will the family be OK? Thinking about business planning like that instantly turns it personal, and they usually divulge a lot more about what the company is supposed to do for them and if one of them is not here, how to replace it. It’s a really easy way to value companies.

Turnwald: I’m thinking of a situation with a couple that probably were in their 40s at the time with one child. The husband initially would put me off for a meeting, but I kept coming back to the importance of the husband and wife being there. We finally got around to having the meeting, and I eventually understood why he was so hesitant because I sensed there was this divide between the husband and wife. I would never do anything that would be divisive to a couple, and in that situation, the wife was starting to get a little bit heated because she was disappointed that the husband wasn’t doing more to take care of her. So, I tried to diffuse a little bit. I said, “Scott and Kelly, obviously I can sense some tension here. Ultimately, I want you two to come together. I want this to be a unifying type of appointment, and we all need to come to an agreement. It’s not going to do any good with just two of us on one page and one person being on a different page.”

So, we did eventually work through it. I was able to, through the fact-finding, show the numbers, explain to the husband why he did need to do more, in a nice enough, gentle enough way to pull him along, because he initially was of the mindset that he didn’t need any life insurance. I think it’s our job to help bring unity in those relationships. So, the good news is he agreed to put a higher level of protection in place, and I think in some small way I helped them work through those differences and maybe helped them have a little better marriage too.