Building and executing: An estate planning value proposition within your practice

22 September 2017

Planners can strengthen their client value proposition by implementing, executing and properly pricing estate planning services within their practices.

Traditionally, the financial advisory client value proposition (CVP) has been portfolio management and strategic advice, which largely takes the form of reporting, one or more reviews per year and some portfolio administration.

With technology and the aggressive marketing of low cost players in the marketplace, this CVP has been heavily undermined to the point where ASIC now has a fairly negative view of the ongoing offering of many advice providers1.

My working definition of a CVP for a majority of clients2 includes the following elements:

  • Value – what problems are you solving? Physical, financial or emotional?
  • Longevity and deliverables – what are you going to deliver? Is it transactional or ongoing?
  • Purchaser and beneficiary – typically, the client and their loved ones.
  • Provider – the advisory firm.
  • Execution – what processes, tools and resources are required to deliver the purchaser’s outcomes?
  • ASIC’s opinion.

I feel the modern definition of estate planning should be:

The right information, the right guidance and the right money, to the right people at the right time.

Any sustainable offering requires that the clients understand and find value in each of the following estate planning deliverables:

  1. The right legal documents/solutions to protect the client and their family;
  2. The information that matters, so that the family can take over running the client affairs;
  3. A crisis management plan, so that family can receive the right guidance;
  4. Engage with the next generation, so the family knows who to turn to; and
  5. Ongoing review of the estate planning needs and solution.

My previous three articles published in Financial Planning magazine have outlined several engagement models we use in our practice to position this service with new or existing clients. These models are essentially a demonstration of offerings 1, 2 and 3 above.

Taking Action: Please email us via the website and ask for a copy of the previous articles.

We have spent more than a decade building Estate Planning For Life (EPFL) by progressively engaging with new and existing clients. It is a service offering that has had a very high take-up rate with our clients and we have used it to achieve three key things:

  1. Genuinely differentiating the client service packages;
  2. Upgrading a large number of clients from our silver service package to our gold package; and
  3. Creating a profound point of difference when vying for new clients.

The businesses that have had the greatest success executing EPFL either had a well differentiated service offering or used EPFL to create that differentiation.

1. Facilitating the right legal solutions

Inevitably, the client is asked to consider reviewing their will and examine a more sophisticated legal solution to their individual estate planning needs. One hurdle that advisers face is finding a skilled legal practitioner to deliver this new service/solution to their clients. See Table 1.

Table 1

Referral Option Considerations Fee Potential

‘Go and see your solicitor…’

* Not a value proposition of your advice firm.

* Lawyer may lack relevant skills and undermine the adviser.

* Very hard for referring adviser to charge fees.

Very low

Adviser briefs the lawyer.

* Suitable if client has strong relationship with the lawyer, complexity exists or if adviser relationship is reciprocal (rare).

* Not a value proposition of advice firm.

* Lawyer positioned as an ‘alpha adviser’, not financial adviser.

* Risk lawyer may undermine adviser or lack skills.

* Difficulty charging fees: “Why do I have to pay you and the lawyer?”


Hourly Rate?


Lawyer is a part of the adviser’s CVP.

* In-house or online lawyer who validates and supports the advice firm.

* Specialist online estate planning lawyers are set up to work this way.

* Very easy to charge ‘facilitation’ fees.

* Generally lower overall net cost for client.

* Lawyers accept liability in writing for legal advice


* Hourly Rate.

* Value based fee.

* $1,100 to $11,000+.


Any decent estate planning engagement tool needs to ask the clients a series of questions about assets and liabilities, personal relationships, family concerns, business relationships and so forth. Once the engagement is complete, the estate planning system should achieve two things:

  1. Prioritise the client’s concerns and acts to create an agenda for a client conversation; and
  2. Create a file note and handover document to properly brief the solicitors. With EPFL, we call our report the Estate Planning Record and it highlights the key things that the lawyer needs to be aware of when rendering advice.

From a PI and compliance perspective, it is important that the adviser properly documents their conversations with the client and refer the client to the solicitor for legal advice. Failing to do this systematically, could place the adviser and the practice at risk.

If you don’t already have a genuine skilled solicitor that understands how to partner with your business, I suggest you take the time to examine the various online legal solutions available (this is my preferred model for delivering legal solutions to my clients).

These online solutions are setup to work through an advice practice, they possess the relevant skills, support the adviser’s status and allow the adviser to charge a fee for their role.

However, a word of warning; do not undercharge for the facilitation work you will be doing. You can ask and will receive facilitation fees of between $1,100 and $11,000 for this aspect of estate planning work. In fact, I am aware of some fees approaching $30,000 for the financial adviser’s role.

But, if your preference is for a local relationship, then take the time to interview a few local solicitors. Be warned, some of them will lack the skills to provide the support your clients need, so take your time with them. Encourage them to share their estate planning war stories. If they don’t have any stories, then they probably lack the experience your clients need.

Taking Action: Please email us via the website and ask for a short review of some of the major online legal service providers.

2 & 3. The initial deliverables

Pragmatically, clients will understand and value three deliverables:

  1. The legal documents/solutions: They are necessary and complex, however, the client typically won’t have an ongoing engagement with these documents;
  2. The information that matters (ITM): Discussed in previous articles, this document will typically represent the first time the client has properly documented their affairs. Essentially, it is their life in a book! Clients intuitively understand this document and attribute great significance to it, knowing that should crisis strike, their loved ones will find great value in the contents; and
  3. The crisis management plan (CMP): This document includes, ‘Who do I call?, What do I ask them? What’s important? What can wait?’. Clients see great value in this document.

4. Engage the next generation

It has been my experience that around half of clients will then ask if the adviser can meet with their family to explain the work that has been completed. The other half of clients also respond positively when I suggest the idea. From trusts in the will, to the ITM and CMP reports, the concerned and loving children are not only worried for their parents but they are typically quite interested in their parents’ affairs.

Last week, I met with the sister and carer of a terminally ill client to discuss her affairs. The sister was amazed and relieved to see the level of preparedness and immediately asked (without prompting) for us to have a detailed look at her own financial and estate planning situation. This is why EPFL has become one of our primary new client engagement offerings.

5. The ongoing value proposition

Every 12 to 24 months in their annual ‘progress meeting’, we review the client’s ITM report and sometimes there are only minor changes (bank accounts, shares, vehicle insurances and so forth). However, we typically find there are major changes every two or three years (new houses, entirely new investment accounts, major medical events and the like).

As anyone who has taken charge of a loved one’s affairs can tell you, the devil is in the detail and the simplest thing can become a major issue if information is missing.

The ongoing value proposition has two elements:

  1. If the client is active and healthy, there are always meaningful changes in the client’s world that need to be documented; and
  2. As clients age, they find tremendous comfort in the knowledge that the adviser has captured all their key information, thereby reducing the burden on their loved ones as a result.

Once updated, we reprint both the ITM and CMP reports for the client. We regularly review the client’s family situation as well, but we only occasionally find that this has changed sufficiently to warrant the preparation of a new will or Power of Attorney.

Execution: Roles and resources

One of the great strengths and weaknesses of advice professionals are their technical skills. It is important to remember that the value created in clients’ minds relate to protecting the people they love, and they don’t always recall the nuance of the estate planning benefits of testamentary trusts and SMSFs.

The actual entering of data and production of reports is an area better suited to support staff. Within our practice, the adviser’s job is to spend time with clients and proof documents, not demonstrate systems to clients. Refer to Table 2.

Table 2

Adviser duties: Client facing Support team duties: System facing
1. Engagement

2. Family tree and/or engagement tools

3. Liaise with lawyers and proof will etc

4. Proof ITM report

5. Provide ITM and CMP to clients

6. Conduct family meeting

7. Review ITM report annually

1. Create client on system

2. Email ‘What’s Important To You: Estate Planning’ (WITYEP) survey link/provide written version to clients

3. Enter ITM data into system

4. Email ITM link or mail draft copy of ITM report to clients

5. Liaise with (chase) clients

6. Two draft ITMs to clients only

7. Prepare final ITM and CMP reports


How long is a piece of string? Our practice operates on a fixed fee model and we favour ongoing fees over transactional or one-off fees, but that is only our practice. Many businesses run on a more discreet service pricing model. Remember, do not diminish your value by under charging for this service. It is one of the highest value conversations you will have with your clients.

As discussed, there are two basic client facing elements in the Estate Planning For Life offering:

  1. Production of the initial documents: wills, PoAs, ITM and CMP reports; and
  2. The ongoing review and maintenance of the ITM and CMP reports.

Production of a quality will, PoA and Enduring Guardianship tend to cost between $4,400 and $11,000 from lawyers specialising in this work. Online service providers tend to charge between $1,100 and $2,200 for similar quality work.

Herein lies the opportunity for the adviser to charge an additional fee for facilitating the production of the legal documents – we tend to charge between $1,100 and $2,200 for this service with ‘mum and dad’ style clients, but have charged more. Typically, the adviser spends around two hours briefing lawyers, proofing documents and witnessing wills for this fee.

Ongoing fees are up to the individual adviser business. The ranges I have seen are:

Lowest – $550 pa

Standard – $1,320 pa to $3,300 pa

Highest – $9,900 pa

I recommend advisers new to this service offering start with their platinum clients first. They follow a presentation I make available on EPFL and over time, they develop their own illustrative stories. Typically, they provide this offering for no additional charge, as it enhances their value proposition to their platinum clients. After six clients, they are using EPFL to win new business and roll out the offering to the broader client base.


Your clients are aware of their own net wealth and the financial and personal stress in the lives of their loved ones. As clients move through their 60s, 70s and into their 80s, their memory becomes an issue and they become deeply invested in not wanting to be a burden on their loved ones. The advisers that position themselves as the ‘keeper of the family truth’, will be elevated from a mere product adviser to the status of ‘most trusted adviser’.

By embedding a systemised estate planning offering into your practice, you will provide a truly post FoFA service offering that not only differentiates and protects your business in a world of ASIC scrutiny, but also deepens your client relationships, win more business and provide an additional revenue pillar.

Taking Action: Take a look at the videos at to gain an idea of how to position estate planning with your clients.

Remember, good advice puts people first.



  1. ‘ASIC Report 499: Financial advice: Fees for no service.’ This report outlines ASIC’s view that advisers and licencees must not only offer but also show proof of the delivery of a service that has demonstrated value to the client.
  2. Refers to the average ‘mum and dad’ clients of an average ‘mum and dad’ financial planning firm. HNW and SME families have greater complexity and are not the subject of this series of articles. That said, methods may change slightly but the principles outlined here are unchanged since ‘good advice puts people first’.
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