When it comes to estate planning the question isn't simply, "do you have a will?"

Over the past five years I have worked with a number of financial advisers. Financial advice  is an area that I am passionate about. I think  advisers who provide good quality advice can add tremendous value to their clients.

Estate planning is an area that advisers should, at the very least, touch on when they advise their clients. And this is very often the case.

Many advisers follow the best practices I discuss below. However, there is a tendency for some advisers to ask a client:

  • whether they have a will; and
  • when the will was prepared;

and move on to the next issue, unless the will was obviously prepared a long time ago, or the client's circumstances have changed significantly since the will was prepared.

In short, there is often a tendency to assume that if a client has a fairly recent will, then their estate planning arrangements are in order.

This may work out fine in most cases. However, these questions are loaded with some important assumptions. The conversation would be improved with some fairly simple additional questions.

The following questions can help guide the estate planning discussion.

  1. Do you know what the effect of your will is?
  2. Does your will reflect your current testamentary intentions?  Not just in terms of your assets, but in terms of who you would like to act as your executor, or the guardians of your children?
  3. Do you know which of your assets would not be distributed according to your will, and do you know what will happen to these assets in the event of your death? This may include assets that are held jointly with another person; superannuation assets; and assets held in a family discretionary trust. Often the issue isn't just ownership of assets, but control.

The responses to these questions can feed a larger discussion, and may lead to the suggestion that the client seek advice on these estate planning matters.  

In the same way that a client's investment strategy needs to be reviewed over time, or that their insurance arrangements should be reviewed regularly, estate planning is a dynamic process which requires regular consideration. Like most other parts of their financial situation, estate planning is not something that a client can entirely set and forget.

This article has also been posted on the Round Table Legal blog

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Sonnie Bailey

Sonnie is the founder and principal of Fairhaven Wealth.

Before founding Fairhaven Wealth, Sonnie worked in the legal and financial services industries for over a decade.

Sonnie first became involved with financial advice as a specialist financial services lawyer. For many years, he was an “adviser of advisers”, reviewing thousands of advice files prepared by hundreds of financial advisers, and providing feedback in relation to the quality and appropriateness of advice; industry best practice; risk management; and regulatory compliance. He has published work in industry publications and spoken at various financial advice conferences.

Sonnie has also worked with banks, investment management firms, insurers, and derivatives providers.

Sonnie has worked as a private client lawyer, focusing on succession, estate planning and trusts. He ran his own legal firm in Australia before relocating to New Zealand. He has also acted in independent trustee and company director positions.

Sonnie is passionate about helping people achieve their goals and manage the risks to which they are exposed.

He has written extensively on his blog, New Zealand Wealth and Risk, which can be found at www.wealthandrisk.nz.

Sonnie is married to his wonderful wife Chrissy, and has two young children, Ben and Anna.