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The Estate Planning Team – Synergy At Its Best!

We've all heard the expression "there is no I in team." Essentially, this means that in order to have a successful team approach to just about anything, you can't have one individual who believes that their contribution is above and beyond the rest, or he or she can do it all.

For a team to perform and produce, it takes coordination, experience and above all, synergy. If the teammates of your favorite baseball team didn't like each other or were not aware of the rest of the team's job, how many pennants do you think they would win?

Imagine a football team with no practice- I shudder to think of the consequences with guys the size of refrigerators! Well, (and you know I would get around to finances eventually) how successful is your team of financial professionals? Let's look at what makes up a cohesive estate planning team:

Just like football, you'll need a quarterback. This person works like your Personal CFO (Chief Financial Officer) who has a working knowledge of all the facets of an estate planning team, and can coordinate their efforts for your benefit. In our office, it's the Certified Financial Planner™ who coordinates the efforts and brings in the appropriate parties.

You'll need an Attorney. Not just any attorney: one who specializes in tax and estate planning. If you have a sprained wrist, you wouldn't go to an internist, or if you had a bellyache you wouldn't call a real estate attorney. Just like doctors, attorney practice in a specialized area of expertise. Since we can't know everything (even me!), a tax and state attorney practices and concentrates in this area alone. Don't think by using your brother-in-law who's a divorce attorney he'll get the job done just to save a few bucks. The time to find out the legal documentation was insufficient may be past the time it can be corrected.

Your Portfolio Manager should be able to build your portfolio based on a number of criteria: income or growth needs, tax ramifications, time horizons, liquidity and marketability needs, designed with your risk tolerance in mind. Is there a plan and a methodology, or are they buying the investment du jour?

Accountants come in a number of certifications. Anybody can call themselves an accountant. While they may be very proficient in their efforts, you want to work with a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or EA (Enrolled Agent). Both are required to keep up on continuing education each year, and are up to date on the tax code. Don't be afraid to ask for proof of certification for anybody who holds themselves out to professional standards.

You may need an Insurance Professional to review your current insurance coverage, and to propose new or updated coverage if necessary. Different insurance professional have different licenses and areas of expertise as well: life, health, property and casualty…all different areas of expertise. Make sure your insurance professional is proficient in the area of need.

In addition to the above, you may utilize the services of a Trust Officer, Charitable Advisor, and any of a number of additional professionals that are concurrent with your needs. Everybody's estate plan is different- some are concerned with income and some with intergenerational wealth transfer. Some folks may be focused on family, some with charitable contributions: it's different for everybody. The coordination of your estate planning team is crucial to the completion of your plan in a cohesive, organized fashion. As stated above, if the team members are not coordinated, they are working alone. Most importantly, remember that it's all about you- not them. Check their credentials, tenure and most importantly, make sure you are comfortable with them. And if they can't present as a coordinated team, keep looking.

This month brings the joy and happiness of the holidays. From my family to yours, may it be filled with the best of everything you could wish for, and then some. Happy Holidays, my dear friends.

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