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Finding professional help you can trust

Chris Farrell Oct 29, 2010

Question: My husband and I have been doing the right things financially – no debt, saving for retirement, saving for college and have adequate life insurance. One thing seems missing though – concrete plans for the management of our little kids and their finances if something unfortunate does happen to both my husband and I. My kids will be left with adequate resources. But these resources need to be managed.

How can I find the right professional to help us with this? I am wary of financial planners and lawyers and just don’t trust them for the money they charge. I pride myself of doing our financial planning and management myself and having thought myself how. But right now I just don’t have the time to get through all the legal details and sort through the different options. How can I ensure that the person I hire to help me with this is competent and charges fairly? Cream, Franklin, WI

Answer: I’m a big believer in DIY finance. It’s healthy to be skeptical about professionals and, unfortunately, the last couple of years has exposed a lot of malfeasance by the pros (think Bernie Madoff).

That said, you do need to work with a professional to get your estate plan in order. The issue of what happens to your children and your money if you and your spouse die while your kids are still young is too important to leave unanswered. Don’t let your justified skepticism paralyze you into inaction.

Fact is, most lawyers are ethical. The basics of estate planning aren’t that complicated, either. You want competency, not genius.

The trick is to find an estate planner you want to work with and respect. The easiest way to find that person is to narrow the list by tapping into your network of friends and colleagues, especially those with similar incomes and wealth. What lawyer did they use to draft a will and estate plan? What was their experience?

Armed with a list of recommended names, you can set up interviews and check out their backgrounds. Once you’re satisfied that they’re ethical and competent, I would immediately chose to do business with the professional you’re most comfortable talking over the intimate details of money and estate planning.

I’d also think about the people close to you. It’s common these days to have one person, usually a family member or close relative designated in the will to raise the children and another family member to manage the money on their behalf. Sometimes, the most loving people may not be the best with money, and vice versa.

Your estate plan will probably evolve over the years and if there is enough money you may want to reach out to other professional, such as a certified financial planner. But I would focus for now on building your estate planning foundation. You can add to it later on.

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