Finding a Financial Advisor/CPA and/or Attorney

While you can find information about how to do end of life planning from many sources, including Plan for Passing On, it is informational only, not professional advice. While you can also download most of the relevant documents, your situation may be too complex to go it alone.

  • Do It Yourself documents may only be appropriate for simple estates and are sometimes not up to date. The same is true of many sources.
  • Help from professionals can help manage finances, find additional ways to reduce income and estate taxes, and make sure all the paperwork is in order.

Research and create a list of financial and legal professionals you might want to consult. If necessary, make sure the advisors are aware of the state of your illness and mental capacity.

Seeking Attorney

The most important considerations of your choice of an attorney is expertise in estate planning and how well you can talk to and work with them.

While most people rely on word of mouth from family or friends or advice from related professionals, there are other ways to seek a reputable lawyer. The internet is probably not one of them.

  • The initial step is to decide what you want your estate plan to accomplish and any special needs you may need, such as advance directives, estate tax advice, or long-term care planning.  
  • When searching for an attorney, look at their credentials, qualifications, state bar status, experience, professional organizations, and areas of expertise. 
  • Talk to them, in person or video conference, with all of your information available. Important questions to ask include:
      • Where did you go to law school?
      • How long have you been doing estate planning?
      • What aspects of estate planning are you comfortable with?
      • How will you communicate with me and what are your preferences?
      • What are the best ways to contact you and how quickly do you respond?
      • How often will I be speaking with you or someone else, such as a paralegal?
      • How will I be updated about the status of my plan?
      • How will you charge, and what is your rate (hourly vs. fixed rate)?
      • What charges are not included in that rate?
      • How closely do you follow changes in the laws and make appropriate changes in my estate plan.
      • Do you review estate plans on a regular basis?
  • The American Bar Association website has ways to search your area for the type of attorney you need.
  • Third -party legal aid sites like, Avvo, and Nolo can also help you search.

Seeking a Financial Planner

When seeking a financial planner the most important consideration is what your specific financial needs are, such as estate planning and investment, budgeting and saving, debt management, insurance coverage, filling out tax forms, retirement planning, or end-of-life finances.

The next consideration is their expertise in the areas you need as well as experience with small or large estates or business, or analyzing your current situation to prepare financial reports and/or assessing investments.

Choose an advisor who is a Fiduciary.

  • A Fiduciary is a professional who is ethically bound to act in your best interest.
  • This will reduce concerns about conflict of interest and make their advice more trustworthy.

Research and interview different advisors and identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Ask about their licenses, tests, and credentials.

  • Financial Advisors tests include:
    • Series 7 – qualification to work as a General Securities Representative
    • Series 65 – qualification to work as an Investment Advisor/Investment Advisor Representative
    • Series 66 – qualification to work as an Investment Advisor Representative and as a Securities Agent
  • A boarded Certified Financial Planner is recognized as an expert in the areas of financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning, and retirement.

Choose an advisor with an investment strategy you are comfortable with.

  • Do you want your advisor to be aggressive, conservative, or somewhere in between?
  • Do you prefer to go mostly with stocks, do you prefer bonds and index funds, or would you prefer a considered blend of many investment types?

Choosing an advisor from a reputable firm increases the chance of a stable relationship and access to better tools and information. However:

  • Association with a major firm like J.P. Morgan or Morgan Stanley does not assure that your advisor is qualified and appropriate for you; and
  • You must still choose your advisor because they will work well with you, not because of where they work

Make sure you understand how your advisor is paid and if it conflicts with your interests. Advisors may:

  • Be “fee only” and charge you an hourly wage, a flat rate, where you know exactly how much you are paying, or a fee based on the number of assets managed, which goes up when you add additional assets to the portfolio they manage;
  • Charge a percentage of your assets they are managing, which may be a motivating factor to increase the value of your estate; or
  • Be commission based and get reimbursed based on how well your portfolio performs. Conflicts may occur with advisors who are paid commissions by mutual funds or other specific investments. You may be recommended to choose these investments, even if they are not the best ones for you.

Choose a financial advisor you can work well with and will communicate with you on a regular basis and when otherwise needed.

Once you’ve identified a firm or individual to manage your assets ask enough questions to make sure you understand all available services, such as:

  • Will they track your investment cost basis (original value of an asset for tax purposes) for you?
  • Can they file your tax return and help you with other tax-related issues?
  • Do they look at insurance products, including life insurance, long-term care, and annuities?
  • Can they help with your estate planning and distribution of wealth?
  • Will they refer you to  another professional if they cannot provide the services you need?
  • Is there a plan for another appropriate advisor in case something happens to yours?

Be wary of any advisor who “guarantees” specific returns on your investment

  • Investing is always a gamble.
  • Unrealistic promises are just that – unrealistic.
  • If you feel pressured to make decisions more quickly than you feel comfortable with it’s a signal to take a break or end the session.

The Financial Planning Association website has ways to search your area for the type of financial planner you need.

After you decide, schedule a meeting with the advisors to discuss any areas related to their specialty.