The Five Questions interview series features advisors throughout the BAM ALLIANCE community sharing their insights on wealth planning and investing. In this interview, Germaine Giani Weldon of AVL WealthCare discusses the importance of thoughtfully preparing estate planning documents.
The BAM ALLIANCE: How do you help people understand the importance of estate planning?
Germaine: I approach the situation by asking some questions that have nothing to do with money. While it will be the estate planning attorney who prepares all the documents, we want our clients to have good direction before they go to an attorney to identify what the family or individual needs and wants.
Recently, I worked with a family who had worked very hard and saved for years, but when they sat down to plan, they had no direction. I asked them how they wanted their plan to take care of them, their children and the charities that are really important to them. We needed to look at it from all angles. They did have a will, but it was over 20 years old. I helped them take a step back to realize what they wanted to achieve, so they could take the next step of having estate planning documents prepared.
BA: So you, as your clients’ wealth advisor, typically initiate this type of conversation?
Germaine: That’s right. We start the conversation about estate planning because that’s part of what we do for our clients as their wealth advisor. Their money has a purpose, and one of those purposes is how that legacy will continue on.
This isn’t an easy conversation, but it’s easier when you have an advisor who really likes the people they help — someone who likes listening to your stories and enjoys seeing you when you come by the office. Advisors who respect and value their clients, they’re willing to go the extra mile for them, whether it’s estate planning, retirement planning or any type of planning.
BA: What do people often misunderstand about estate planning?
Germaine: One thing people don’t realize is they do have a voice, and they have an opportunity to say how they really want things to be. I have had clients tell me how they had estate planning documents prepared years ago, but they didn’t understand what they meant. I have also sat with clients as they read their outdated estate planning documents, only to see them surprised to learn how their assets would be distributed.
I think clients can get intimidated by the estate planning process, or they’ve been told before that it has to be a certain way for tax purposes. They just haven’t been encouraged to say, “I’ve given it some thought, and I’d like things to go this way. Can you help me achieve these goals?” They really do have voice. They just need to use it.
What is the risk of not having an estate plan?
Having no plans has the potential to make family members angry at each other and angry at you — and you’re not even there anymore. They’ll fight over it and fuss over it, and they’ll have to deal with attorneys, and it will be very expensive. At a time when they should be coming together as a family to grieve their loss, they are bickering with each other.
It happens all the time. An extremely emotional time becomes more emotional. So, those documents that seem so technical are actually there to express the way you want things to be and how funds should be given to the people you intend to receive them. If it’s not all settled, someone in the family has to take on that burden. It’s a great deal of responsibility, a lot of work and a lot of attorney fees. With some good planning done ahead of time, you can stop some of those conflicts from happening.
BA: What do you tell clients after they have completed their planning documents?
Germaine: I say how great it is they’ve done this for themselves and their family. I see sighs of relief because they know everything’s in place now.
I want them to reach out to their adult children and talk about what they’ve prepared. I ask if I can help facilitate that conversation, and I let them know we can all meet here to talk about it. I encourage people who have come this far to share that information with their family, so there are no surprises.
Most of all, we like seeing our clients happy. We’re not going to give them a cookie-cutter solution. We know the steps to planning are different for everyone.
About Germaine Giani Weldon, AVL WealthCare, Gulfport, MS
Germaine Giani Weldon, CPA/PFS, CFP® is an advisor for AVL Wealthcare, LLC, an independent member of the BAM ALLIANCE.
Germaine provides investment and financial planning advice to families and professional business owners. She has authored numerous articles for various news publications. Germaine has served for the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM Board of Standards and the personal financial planning section of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
Germaine holds a master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi.
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