Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve seen a big shift in the new client market. It used to be that a large percentage of the people coming to our office had no Living Trust or other estate plan. Today, the market has almost completely flipped, with many if not most people coming in with an existing trust or plan.
Why has this market shift occurred?
Like it or not, the truth I’ve witnessed (and you likely will soon, if you haven’t already) is that entry level work for legitimate estate planning attorneys has increasingly moved to LegalZoom (and other cheaper internet or options), do-it-yourself kits and low-priced paralegal or attorney “mills”.
This shift offers a major opportunity!
Although many people do now have a Living Trust or other basic estate plan, I’ve found most of those plans have not been reviewed for years and many are substandard. Furthermore, these people with old plans are often “orphaned” – – they got the plan on the internet, did it themselves, or went to an attorney who has failed to do any follow-ups and cultivate client relationships. These people with existing plans require periodic checkups, updates and maintenance, but are not getting properly serviced.
While there are a number of ways to target market to those already with a trust (beyond the scope of this article), many will just show up as prospects from your general marketing efforts. The challenge isn’t so much getting them in the door, it’s actually reviewing their current documents and convincing them to invest in upgrading their existing plan, all in one, time-efficient meeting.
Like I preach (and practice) in all other areas of your practice, you need to have a system or clear, consistently used methodology when meeting with prospects who already have an estate plan – – so you successfully “close” them (get them to engage you).
A Few, Quick Tips
In the space allotted for this article, I can’t possibly go into our entire trusted and proven “Review Trust Closing System” in great detail, but here are a few quick tips:
- Get these prospects to attend your seminar first, before they come in for their initial consultation. (If you don’t do seminars, you can essentially present one as your first meeting and have them return for a second “document review” or closing meeting – – but this is far less time-efficient!) You can encourage prospects to attend your seminar before their appointment by offering attendees a special fee discount when they come in. By already going over the key features of your planning (stuff that is normal to you but not found in cheapie plans, like special asset protection-type trusts for beneficiaries), the prospect will already be “pre-sold” on an upgrade even before you review their existing documents.
- Have prospects fill out a Questionnaire as a condition for their free initial consultation. Explain why it will make their review meeting more time-efficient and avoid spilling over into a second meeting you’ll have to charge them for. You should get basic family and asset information, but also ask probing questions that will indicate whether the prospects want to make changes to their plan (or will help convince the prospects it’s time to make changes to their plans).
- After going through the Questionnaire at the initial meeting, visualize the right plan for the prospect, even before reviewing his or her documents. This way, you’ll more easily and clearly spot where the existing plan should be upgraded.
- Utilize a brief, internal “Trust Review Checklist”. This will permit you to review the prospect’s existing documents quickly and thoroughly, while the prospect is sitting right in front of you. It’s not only your malpractice protection, but as you go through it and identify issues for the prospective client, the process will build value – – and the fee you’ll quote!
- Utilize a fixed fee schedule. Have certain charges for partial “fixes”, like changing successor trustees and certain types of distribution charges (e.g. flexible A-B trusts, protective/spendthrift/special needs trusts, Medi-Caid planning provisions). Also, have a pre-set fee for a complete plan Amendment and Restatement (“A&R”). By comparatively pricing these right, you can show the prospect that it will cost more to throw a bunch of patches on an old tire than to buy a new one. (And, in fact, a full A&R is probably better for both you and the client!). Also use your fee schedule to emphasize the special value-added benefits of your planning “package” (like a Trust or “Owner’s Manual” and “Trustee Manual”) and your maintenance or free service package (your service package is a key selling point, because the lack of this is why the prospect is in front of you in the first place!)
- Be ready with “scripted” responses for the toughest objections to moving forward. By being prepared to handle these, you’ll be more confident and will close more engagements.
- Have a set follow-up process for no-sales. Don’t give up on people who don’t immediately engage you. Proper continued marketing to them will often recoup and exceed the cost of your initial time spent.
Obviously, I could go into a lot more detail – – which is why I have a specific program entitled, “Convert Prospects – – With Other Attorneys’ Trusts – – Into Clients!”. It goes over step-by-step the details about converting more of these individuals into clients and comes complete with my Questionnaire and Review Checklist forms and directs a lot of attention to overcoming the most difficult closing objections. For more information about this program, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Philip J. Kavesh is a nationally recognized attorney, authority, speaker, educator and technical innovator in estate planning.
Phil has earned significant recognition and accolades over 40+ years of practice as an estate planning attorney. Phil holds a Master’s Degree (LL.M.) in Tax Law and is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. He also has been awarded the Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Consultant designations. Phil has served his fellow estate planning and financial professionals by teaching in the Golden Gate University Graduate Tax Degree and Certified Financial Planner programs. Phil was also selected by his peers and served on their behalf as the California Legislative Liaison for the International Association of Financial Planners and has represented the estate planning attorney community in testifying before State legislative committees seeking to regulate the estate and financial planning professions and to eliminate “trust mills”. In fact, several of the practice forms and client disclosure pieces created by Phil have been incorporated into new legislation and regulations. Furthermore, Phil was one of three attorney co-founders of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys. He has also been an honorary member of the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys and is an active member of WealthCounsel.
Phil has been recognized and quoted as an estate and tax planning authority in numerous national, prestigious publications, including Money Magazine, Investors Daily, Personal Finance Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Business Journal, Consumer Reports Magazine, Journal of Retirement Planning, Ed Slott’s IRA Newsletter, Investment Advisor Magazine, Life Insurance Selling, and PacQuarterly. He has appeared on several television and radio programs and his weekly TV show, “Preserve Your Estate”, was broadcasted on local Los Angeles TV for over six years.
Additionally, Phil has created or co-created numerous technical advances in estate planning, including The Personal Asset TrustSM and The IRA Inheritance Trust®. His unique legal documents have been licensed to hundreds of attorneys all across the country, through his company, The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc. He has also authored or co-authored several outstanding consumer publications including “The Ten Biggest Mistakes People Make When Setting Up a Living Trust”, “The Top Ten Estate Planning Mistakes Wealthy People Make”, and “21st Century Wealth”.
Even more impressive are Phil’s accomplishments as a speaker and educator of the public and his professional peers. Phil has personally presented over 3,000 seminars on estate, tax and financial planning to the general public, to various major corporations and their employees, and to CPAs, financial planners and attorneys. His renowned seminars have been duplicated and sold to thousands of estate planning professionals and financial advisors in the U.S. and Canada. Phil has devoted substantial efforts to improving the standards in the estate planning and financial planning industries by personally training thousands attorneys and financial planners.
In his spare time, Phil enjoys spending time with his adult twins, Jeana and Jason, going to the beach, traveling, reading, and cheering on the Los Angeles Kings.
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