Thoroughly Vet Professionals Prior to Collaborating
This time we hear from Terri Munro, a wealth advisor at BT Wealth Management in Atlanta, Ga. She recalls how a failed prenuptial agreement led her to implement a vetting system for collaboration deals.
I work with many divorced and widowed women who are managing their own finances for the first time; it’s my specialty. I had been working with a divorced woman for several years, primarily dealing with estate planning, when she told me she was planning to remarry. She had a significant net worth and I suggested she look into getting a prenuptial agreement to protect her assets. She was wary, as prenuptials can feel strange when you’re in the throes of love, but she decided to move forward with the idea.
The estate attorney we were working with had a new family law partner and she recommended we use him to complete the prenuptial. I would’ve rather called in a family law attorney I’d worked with before but I kept quiet and went along with the estate attorney’s recommendation.
That turned out to be the wrong decision. This attorney, who I’d never met before, created tension between the couple and did not respect their desires for the agreement, refusing to remove certain sections of the document that the couple wanted to drop. It can be difficult for an engaged couple to discuss what is going to happen if they were to ever get divorced, so the attorney has to create a safe environment for both parties to speak openly and honestly, while also respecting and caring for each other’s wishes. That did not happen in this case.
Regrettably, the process became contentious, turning my client away from the idea of completing the prenuptial agreement. As an advisor, it’s up to me to manage my client’s experience with the firm, and so we went back and forth many times, attempting to reach an agreement that honored both parties. In the end, though, my client did not feel comfortable signing the drafted document. The couple backed out of the prenuptial, and now my client is not protected should anything happen.
This experience taught me and my firm an important lesson. To prevent this from happening again, we implemented a system to vet professionals and create an ongoing referral list for advisors seeking additional services. We consult the list of approved professionals any time we outsource work, trusting that these individuals are recommended by board members and coworkers based on firsthand experience.
I have since worked on another prenuptial agreement for a different client and went through an extensive interview process to find a family law attorney that fit our needs and culture. The process was smooth, collaborative and efficient, and the attorney was able to lead the couple to an agreement without causing tension on the eve of their marriage. We really put the work in to find this attorney, and it paid off. Now this individual is on our approved professionals list and has been used by several members of our team.
I now know to follow my intuition in these kinds of situations, and thoroughly vet all professionals who will interact with my clients. It’s a necessary step to create and manage an appropriate environment. Anyone included in the job, especially those who I bring in, reflects back on my firm and me. Ultimately, I’m responsible for my client’s experience. If it takes a little extra work on my end to ensure that experience is a positive one, it’s certainly worth it.