New client conversations: How to lay a rock-solid foundation to a long-term relationship

The first conversations financial advisors have with clients and prospects are more than just exchanges of information. They are pivotal moments that set the stage for a lasting and fruitful relationship. 

These discussions–which can sometimes span multiple initial conversations depending on the client’s financial and family complexity–go beyond numbers and portfolios. They are a chance to understand the values, goals, and family dynamics that motivate them. These conversations enable you to develop a report, which is vital if you’re to be trusted with sensitive financial and family information. And they provide an important opportunity to gain crucial information that will provide the fuel to the financial and estate strategy you create.

We recently sat down with Vanilla and AdvicePeriod founder Steve Lockshin for a deep dive into what these first conversations should ideally entail for a Vanilla Academy course, which is now available. We also created a New Client Conversation Checklist to help guide you through these discussions.

Financial planning questions: Understanding goals

The top priority of that first client conversation(s) is to come away from it with a holistic understanding of the client’s financial landscape and personal aspirations. For all clients, irrespective of their estate size, these questions illuminate the path forward. 

Financial advisor questions to ask prospects: 

  1. Financial Overview: Get the 50,000-foot view of the client’s financial situation. How do income, assets, and family dynamics interplay? Who are the primary individuals they want to care for in their estate?
  2. Special Circumstances: Are there extenuating circumstances or relationships that should factor into the planning? (e.g., elderly parents, special needs heirs).
  3. The Role of Money: What role does money play in their household?

Some of the questions you ask will depend on where the client is in their career or journey of wealth accumulation. 

Questions financial advisors should ask families still in the wealth accumulation phase:

Premature Death Scenario: In the unfortunate event of premature death, how much cash flow do they need to sustain their family? Do they have sufficient assets, and is there adequate life insurance in place? Is it held in trust?

Questions financial advisors should ask clients with substantial wealth:

  1. Wealth Purpose: What is the purpose of their accumulated wealth? Why continue to build it?
  2. Protection and Distribution: Is it crucial to shield heirs from creditors or divorce? How do they envision leaving assets to their heirs – lump sum or ensuring annuitized cash flow?
  3. Equal Treatment: Is equal treatment of grandchildren and future heirs a priority, or are they comfortable with varying inheritances?
  4. Philanthropy: How do you feel about charity? Are there causes you’re passionate about that should be integrated into your financial pla

Gathering & Organizing Assets/Documents: Establishing the Legal Framework

Once you have a solid foundation of the current financial situation and goals for the future, it’s time to transition to the practicalities. You’ll need to learn what legal documents the client already has in place – and if those documents are current or adequate. 


Will Execution: When was the will executed? Does it require updating based on recent life changes?

Life Changes: Have there been significant life changes (births, deaths, marriages, divorces) that need to be reflected in legal documents?

Additional Documents: Beyond the standard will, what other documents should be considered?

Fiduciaries and Executors: Are the designated fiduciaries, executors, and trustees up to date? Verification is crucial, as circumstances may have changed.

Health Care Proxy

What are the key tenets of the health care proxy? Have they specified decisions on organ donation?

Power of Attorney

Designated Power of Attorney: Is the designated power of attorney still the most appropriate choice?

Living Will

Are healthcare directives up to date? Have end-of-life decisions been made? Review changes in life circumstances and fiduciaries.

Essential documents for adult children

One of the often overlooked (but important) components of a client’s plan is to ensure they have documents for unmarried adult children. Without these docs, if an adult child has a medical emergency, the parent cannot receive information from the hospital or participate in decision-making. Ensure these docs are in place and kept current. 

Core Documents for Adult Children

Discuss the importance of a full set of core estate planning documents for adult children with a net worth above $500k. Also ensure to review (or have created, when necessary):

  • Life changes and fiduciaries
  • Healthcare powers of attorney
  • Financial powers of attorney

Enhance initial client conversations with Vanilla

Estate planning software like Vanilla can be a huge help in these first client conversations and in crafting estate planning strategies that meet your client’s needs. The right platform will enable you to help your clients visualize their assets and plan in a visual, dynamic way – and give projections as to what might happen to their estate given various different scenarios. To learn more about how Vanilla can improve those first client conversations and help foster lasting relationships, get a demo.


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