Recently, there have been several stories of local financial and legal professionals accused of impropriety in the handling of clients’ assets. As a member of the legal community, and as an asset protection professional who works almost exclusively with clients’ estates and trusts, these stories provoke a special disappointment for me.
I spend many hours sitting with families and advising them on the most intimate of financial and family concerns, seeing the trust my clients put in me. Unfortunately, as with any profession, there are some who misuse this trust. Many clients often ask me, “What can you do to protect yourself and your family from such a breach of trust?”
I suggest a few simple guidelines:
First, do your homework. If you are meeting with a lawyer or financial advisor, ask for references, speak to your friends and family, and gather the input of people around you who you know and trust. Speak to your accountant, existing financial planner or attorney. Ask the people in your community who they feel is qualified to assist you. If you are comfortable with it, speak to your family and ask for their input. Often, our family members are the ones who will interact with our chosen attorney long after we are gone.
Second, ask questions…a lot of questions. If you’re meeting with an attorney or financial advisor for the first time, they should be willing to spend as much time with you as is necessary to answer your questions, explain fees and compensation, and give you the information you need to make an informed decision. I always say, “No question is a dumb question.” Your potential advisor should make you feel that way, too. Our job should be to reassure you by answering the questions that keep you up at night.
Third, get a second opinion. You may not necessarily work with the first person you meet. I have had many clients come to me after speaking with another professional or attending a seminar. People are often surprised to find out they have many choices besides a Trust, and the cost of those choices can vary significantly. Most advisors will not charge for an initial consultation. Take advantage of that and gather advice from multiple sources.
Fourth, find the right fit. There are undoubtedly several people in our community who can address your particular issue. The key is to find someone you are comfortable with, someone of whom you can easily ask questions and who responds attentively to your inquiries. Many clients and advisors have told me that they chose their attorney because he or she simply returned their phone calls. This amazes me! That is not to say this should be your only criterion, nor even one of your top five, but knowing that your concerns will be addressed in a timely manner is a factor to take into consideration.
In making a decision about whom to work with, the key is to follow these guidelines. Most importantly, though, trust your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it isn’t right for you.
Andrew K. Ward, Esq. is an attorney in New Hartford, New York, who has focused his practice exclusively on Estate, Medicaid and Business Succession Planning for over fifteen years. He is a Board Member on several local charities, including Upstate Cerebral Palsy, the ARC Guardianship Committee, and the Neighborhood Center. He is a former Board Member of the American Red Cross-Utica Chapter and he is the current President of the New Hartford School Board. He resides in New Hartford with his wife, Jennifer, and three children, Sam, Eli and Annie.
He would be happy to answer any of your questions, and can be reached at (315) 797-7300.