By Gabrielle Olya, GoBankingRates featuring Samantha J. Garcia, CFP®, AIF®, CDFA®, Wealth Advisor at Halbert Hargrove
Today’s “Financially Savvy Female” column was inspired by one of our readers who asked, “Where and how can I find reliable and knowledgeable estate planning firms, financial planners and tax accountants?” To help this reader out, we spoke with Samantha Garcia, CFP, a wealth advisor with Halbert Hargrove, and got her tips for assembling your financial dream team.
What kind of professionals should you have on your financial team?
A financial advisor is probably one of the key people that you should have on your team. A CPA is great to have on hand, especially if there are tax complications or if there’s a transition. In a divorce, if there are accounts splitting, or if things are moving around, you want to understand all of the tax ramifications. While this isn’t necessarily a financial professional, having an estate planning attorney in your pocket is a great person to have. As life circumstances change, you want to make sure your documents are up to date. Sometimes it makes sense to have an insurance professional, whether for property, casualty or health insurance. You want somebody you can go to whom you can trust to give unbiased advice.
What’s a good place to start when you start building out your team? Which professional should you prioritize finding first?
I’m probably a little biased on this, but I’m a firm believer that the financial advisor is probably the most important. A CPA, you’re working with one time, maybe two times a year if you’re doing tax planning. An estate planning attorney, you’re only really reaching out when there are changes to your estate plan or when you’re first creating it. Even an insurance broker, if you have somebody like that on your team, you’re not meeting with them but maybe once a year. The financial advisor is going to be that constant, helping guide your money.
Most financial advisors can help give you some kind of tax picture or they can understand the estate planning side or the insurance side. They kind of become the team leader of your advisors. In saying that, your advisors should all be working together. It’s in everybody’s best interest to all be on the same team. They should all be talking to each other, so if there’s a taxable event that happens, your financial advisor is aware of it and your CPA is aware of it. If there’s a major life change, everybody should be included in the picture so that the client is getting the best of what they deserve.
Are there specific certifications you should look for?
For a financial advisor, one of the most important certifications to look for is certified financial planner, CFP. That somebody’s who has done the coursework and taken the big exam. They have an understanding that’s very broad about how to help people. Beyond that, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re going through a divorce, somebody who has a CDFA, which is certified divorce financial analyst, is a great resource to have on your team. They can help you navigate through that divorce process. If you’re looking for someone to help with investments, there’s CFA, chartered financial analyst. They have in-depth investment knowledge and they’ve proven themselves with that very difficult test. Other than that, one of the things that Halbert Hargrove prides itself on is that all of us have the accredited investment fiduciary (AIF) certification. It’s that extra dedication to say that we are fiduciaries — we’ve done the coursework, we do the continuing education, on how to actually put our clients first.
For attorneys, it’s about what niche they’re in. If you’re getting a divorce, you want a family law attorney who specializes in family law. If you’re looking for an estate planning attorney, you’re looking for someone who does estate planning all the time, whether it’s writing them or administering them. It’s a business attorney if you have a small business or even a large business. You want someone who specializes in the area you’re looking for.
What are some good resources for finding reliable professionals?
The first place to start is combing through your network. Ask family and friends if they have people that they’ve worked with that they enjoy working with. They might not be the right fit for you, but they may be able to guide you in the right direction.
There are so many online ways to find people that it gets very overwhelming very quickly. Sometimes it’s best to find one [professional] first and ask them [to refer you to other professionals]. If you find an advisor that you trust, they should have a network of people that they can [recommend]. I’ll give people two, sometimes three names, and say, let’s meet with them, let’s have a phone call and see if this is somebody you mesh with and feel like you can work with.
If you don’t have a personal introduction, for advisors, you can look at the CFP Board and find a certified financial planner. You can go to NAPFA.org — they have a list of fee-only financial planners. There are so many options. Meet with a couple and just see how you feel. You do have to kind of go with your gut.
What happens if you find you don’t mesh with one of the professionals you hire?
You’re not tied to these people forever. If it doesn’t work out, you can change later on down the road. It’s not forever. I hope that my clients will be lifelong clients, but I also understand that there sometimes comes a time when it’s just not working out, and that’s OK. Change is sometimes necessary.
GOBankingRates wants to empower women to take control of their finances. According to the latest stats, women hold $72 billion in private wealth — but fewer women than men consider themselves to be in “good” or “excellent” financial shape. Women are less likely to be investing and are more likely to have debt, and women are still being paid less than men overall. Our “Financially Savvy Female” column will explore the reasons behind these inequities and provide solutions to change them. We believe financial equality begins with financial literacy, so we’re providing tools and tips for women, by women to take control of their money and help them live a richer life.