When meeting with current or prospective clients who have young children, you can, by asking one simple question and two follow-ups, gain their trust, get them to disclose their entire financial picture and ingratiate yourself with a great source of referrals (no, it's not: “Mind if I pay for your kid's braces?”)

The question is:

  1. “Do you have an updated will?”

    You will find two truths when the clients answer. First, the majority will say “no” (the legal Web site nolo.com estimates that more than 70 percent of U.S. adults don't even have a will). Second, you will discover that, since the horror of September 11, parents of young children are more eager to deal with this troubling issue than ever before. When a current or potential client admits to procrastinating on this subject, your next question should be obvious:

  2. “Would you like the names of some attorneys who can help you?”

    If yes, then recommend a few suitable attorneys whom you know and trust. You do have that kind of relationship with at least one or two lawyers, don't you? If not, Roy Adams wrote a great article in the July Registered Rep. on the ins-and-outs of working with estate planning attorneys.

    Even if the client already has an attorney in mind, you can help everyone involved by pointing out that the lawyer will likely need the client's detailed financial picture at the first meeting. The client can either assemble the information himself or bring that shoebox full of statements to the lawyer, who will in turn gladly put it together for a few hundred extra dollars in fees.

    But there is a third, better option. Ask the client:

  3. “Would you like me to put the information together?”

    Now it's your time to shine. When the client understands that you are willing to turn that shoebox into a comprehensive financial plan, he won't be able to get the information to you fast enough. Especially when you emphasize that the plan costs little or nothing, is completely confidential and creates no obligation on his part.

After you have completed the plan, create copies for the client and for the attorney. When the client stares bewilderedly at the 4-pound document you've plunked down in front of him, offer to attend the initial attorney-client meeting to help interpret the results. The client will appreciate your advocacy. The attorney will be impressed by not only the financial plan, but also by your commitment to the client's broader life-and-death issues — and may be inclined to recommend you to her own clients when the need arises.

Best of all, at the initial meeting a good estate planning attorney will likely raise more questions with your client than she will answer. And after that first meeting you and your client can go over the myriad financial planning topics brought up by the estate planning process, including:

Life insurance

How much is enough? Term or whole life?


Revocable or irrevocable? Funded or unfunded?

Retirement plans

Will your client's spouse be able to retire comfortably even if your client isn't around to keep contributing to a plan?

College funding

Who will provide for the children's higher education, and how can you prevent this money from heading to unintended destinations?

Titling of assets

Is the client's first wife still the beneficiary of his IRA? Does the second wife know about this?

Disability insurance

How long can a client remain unable to work before the money runs out?

Long term care insurance

Who will be the ultimate beneficiary of the client's savings — his family, or the nursing home?

Upon completion of the will and the implementation of the financial plan, several mutually beneficial events have occurred. You've earned the client's trust by offering to put your time and effort into a process that initially didn't put one more dime in your pocket. You've gained insight into the client's goals and dreams — something that may have taken years to occur, if ever. A thankful and competent attorney has a new client, and you have a reason to discuss and employ many other financial planning solutions.

Best of all, you, the client and the attorney have teamed up to minimize the damage a worst-case scenario would inflict upon your client's loved ones. You were the impetus behind getting your client “off the stick” and finishing a task that he already knew was necessary. Knowing he's done the right thing, he'll sleep better at night — and that, as they say, is priceless.

Writer's BIO:
Kevin McKinley
is a CFP and vice president of investments at a regional brokerage and author of Make Your Kid a Millionaire — 11 Easy Ways Anyone Can Secure a Child's Financial Future.