Adviser warning: Be careful who you work with

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As financial professionals become increasingly specialised, advisers need to be careful about what assumptions they make when choosing who to work with.

When managing a client’s estate, advisers act as a bridge between the client and the range of different professional specialists – from accountants to solicitors.

Michael Perkins, principal at MJP Legal, compares the role of the estate planner to that of the GP, who deals with the front-end diagnostics before handing on to specialists. However, he says that it is vital for advisers to understand that lawyers are not uniformly skilled. For instance, the law of succession stopped being taught as a compulsory subject more than 10 years ago, says Perkins.

He says the big danger for advisers involved in the estate area is presuming that all lawyers are competent to assist them. “The reality is that this is a specialised area. There is a skilled deficit in the legal profession for people that do this work well, and to just push clients back to the last lawyer they used could be an act of negligence.

“Treat legal relationships with great care and don’t presume the person on the other side of the conversation is qualified. It’ll be your assumptions or presumptions that bring you undone more often than not in life, not doubt about it.”

The warning was raised on a LinkedIn discussion in the Australian Estate Planning Group. Financial planner Susan McDermott raised the issue after helping two clients through their partners’ estate distribution, and finding legal offices “made blatant mistakes” and “elongated property transfers”.

Perkins said that it highlighted the difference between relational and professional practice. “What a lot of people aren’t talking about is the fact that doing this relationship based work requires a different business model. It’s not just about trying to push transactional services through the system.”

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