Markets & Finance

Wealth Summits Keep Financial Plans in Line


Since last year's market crash, more clients are getting their advisers, lawyers, and accountants together to vet their financial game plan

Coordinated meetings with attorneys, accountants, and financial advisers are common among ultrarich families. These so-called wealth summits enable a team of trusted advisers to share information and brainstorm with their clients on a wide range of legal and financial issues.

In the wake of last year's market crash, and with anxiety about restructurings and layoffs high, more executives are gathering advisory teams together to take stock of their personal financial game plans. On top of a time management benefit, they "make clients feel in control of their finances and future," says Diahann Lassus, president of Lassus Wherley & Associates, a wealth management firm with offices in New Providence, N.J., and Bonita Springs, Fla.

Typically orchestrated by the financial adviser, the meetings are used to create a well-rounded financial picture for the client's brain trust. Accountants, attorneys, and financial advisers "all have gaps in training and understanding," says Stef Tucker, a partner in the tax practice at Venable, a law firm in Washington, D.C. While much of the planning is tax-related, teams may also vet a life insurance policy pitch, explore the impact of a move to a low-tax state, or strategize on charitable and trust planning.

Checks and Balances

The team approach can serve as a system of checks and balances. Another set of eyes may spot unnecessary products being pitched to a client. When at a wealth summit last year, Debbie Cochran, an estate lawyer and founder of Cochran & Owen in Vienna, Va., found that a client was considering an expensive life insurance trust he didn't need. (The client was told it would be used to avoid estate taxes, but he had no heirs.) Savings? About $15,000 a year, Cochran says. "I'm sure I'll never get a referral from that insurance agent," she says.

Steven Shindler, the 46-year-old executive chairman of wireless communications company NII Holdings, convenes his advisers twice a year at his Reston (Va.) office. Last year he had his two lawyers, accountant, and financial adviser analyze two "creative" financing plans for a business investment, which led him to greenlight something he might have otherwise passed on. The team connects via e-mail or conference call as needed.

Before an in-person gathering, team members should collectively review tax returns, insurance policies, and cash-flow projections, as well as a client's investments. The group should also create a list of tasks to accomplish for the year, says Barry Glassman, who as president of McLean (Va.) planning firm Glassman Wealth Services orchestrates summits for clients with assets of $2million and up. That list should be revisited with the team during the year, particularly when issues—such as vesting stock options—have been resolved.

Clients may have to pay the hourly rate charged by the individual professionals. Paul Shultz of Clarksville, Md., paid $1,000 in attorney fees for a summit earlier this year. Shultz, 49, came into a windfall after the engineering firm where he is a director was sold. His adviser at Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors and an estate attorney have done two summits to draft an estate plan. "As an engineer, I can figure out a lot of things, but when it comes to managing my money, I want a professional doing it," says Shultz.

Young is a Personal Business editor for BusinessWeek .

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