Money is a crucial component to nearly every major decision we make in life. How much you earn, spend, save and invest all factors into your overall financial well-being. Most of us do not have the time or knowledge to effectively plan and manage our own long-term accumulation of wealth, which is often why we turn to an advisor for guidance. Finding someone worthy of that responsibility who acts with integrity is a decision that has cascading effects for many years.

Before you select a wealth management and estate planning advisor, there are a few things to consider and define.  

Aligning your goals

Before meeting with an advisor, assess your current situation and determine your financial goals. Are you single or married? Do you have children or plan to become a parent? What age would you like to retire? What other financial goals do you have?  Developing this overall picture will allow you and your potential advisor to properly coordinate your finances to meet each step.

Your advisor should consider your risk tolerance while developing the financial roadmap. When you walk into a casino, are you throwing down large bills at the craps table or using a predetermined amount at the penny slots? All investments carry some level of risk. One of the upsides of having an advisor is knowing your money is being thoughtfully directed based on your risk tolerance and financial goals. Understanding who you are as an investor will help formalize the level of support and services you need from an advisor.

Which type of advisor best fits your needs?

There are many options out there: online robo-advisors, large regional banks, high-profile investment firms and experienced local advisors that live in your community. It is beneficial to understand your expectations and your comfort level with each. Would you prefer using a local attorney you can sit down with or a website like Rocket Lawyer? Since money is such a personal aspect of our lives, most choose a one-on-one relationship. If your preference is to hear a human voice when you pick up the phone versus a long-winded automation service, then a local advisor would be the ideal fit for you.

As you define your needs, seek the advice of people you trust, such as friends, family or co-workers. The people you are closest to could refer you to an advisor that they have experience working with and can share if they would make a good fit for you. Also, speak with people that have similar circumstances as you and even seek others in a position you hope to be in. Learning from their trials and triumphs can be used to your advantage.

Finding an advisor with the experience and knowledge you need

It is essential to know the background of the advisor you select. Are they acting as a fiduciary and putting your best interests first?  You should also consider their years of experience, number of clients, examinations passed, licenses and designations held and areas of expertise.

Wealth management is not only about increasing the size of your account balance but protecting it as well. Does the advisor offer services for tax management, estate planning and insurance? Do they offer tools and services to help you manage and prepare for additional issues that you may face as you age? Does the advisor understand the implications of uncertain life events will have – such as an unexpected illness – on your financial plan and how to address them?  Can they assist with a plan to transfer your wealth when you pass in an efficient and organized manner? These are just a few points to consider but areas the advisor should be able to discuss and to define comfortably.

Meeting with an advisor and setting expectations

When you meet with an advisor, be ready to ask questions, review fees and verify the fiduciary responsibility. Ask how often the advisor contacts and meets with clients. Will it be a one-on-one relationship, or will there be a team that manages your account? Although many wealth management plans have similarities, everyone’s situation is unique to them. With that in mind, ensure all the details are laid out on why they are the best match for you and your wealth management needs.

Take time to fully understand the advisor’s fee structure. Structures can vary widely, so carefully review and ask pointed questions about when and how fees are applied.

Lastly, make sure the advisor is bound by a fiduciary responsibility. This means all actions performed by the advisor must be in the client’s best interest. Ask about the advisor’s professional history and do your due diligence in building mutual understanding of your goals. Knowing that your interests come first is crucial to the selection process.

Most people’s financial lives aren’t black and white. Financial circumstances change as we move through different stages of life. Working with an experienced wealth management and estate planning advisor who can craft a customized plan that fits your needs is the first step to achieving your financial goals.